Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Mayor Greg Nickels has decided to join the Seattle School Board Chainsaw Gang. In a decision based partly on challenged flawed documents produced by the Seattle School District, Mayor Nickels, through his Department of Planning and Development, has given the Seattle School District conditional SEPA approval to proceed with the Ingraham High School construction project.

The final project permit has not been approved. The public has until Feb 5, 2009 to appeal the city’s conditional SEPA decision. The City’s lack of commitment to save the trees under this decision brings the trees one step closer to being cut. Save the Trees -Seattle will be appealing the flawed decision.

The Seattle School District has proposed cutting down 72 large Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees on the west side of Ingraham High School that are 75 years old and over 100 feet tall to replace some existing portables. The trees to be cut are seen in the picture above.

Ingraham High School can have both trees and classrooms. The open lawn area on the North side of the school in the picture above has been chosen as a future building site for the school and could be used now to build the proposed addition without having to cut down any large trees.

At 28 acres, the Ingraham High School campus is the largest public high school campus in the city. There are also other locations the addition could be easily built without having to sacrifice a unique urban forest area.

What hasn’t been debated publicly is that at the same time the Seattle School District is shutting down schools across the city because of excess capacity, it is proposing adding an additional 10,000 square feet to Ingraham High School above the 12,000 square feet it is demolishing and replacing. The School District has said it has an extra 3000 high student seat capacity yet is adding, according to its application, 200 more seats at Ingraham High School above the current 1200.

Why when the Seattle School District is experiencing a $37 million shortfall and closing schools is it not re-evaluating the $24 million it is spending for new parking lots and more classrooms at Ingraham High School?

The City’s decision notes that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has classified habitat containing Douglas fir, Pacific madrone and Salal as a “rare plant community” in King County. Mayor Nickel’s DPD however accepts the School District’s incomplete and false statements that the understory does not have adequate species diversity.

One of the School District’s own arborist reports confirmed the species diversity is there despite the district’s repeated efforts to cut and mow the understory. Salal is growing back in a number of areas in the tree grove once mowing stopped last year. The DPD even confirms the viability of the unique habitat by noting that “the Northwest Tree Stand could eventually be restored.” The critical componet of the habitat is the 75 year old trees. The understory has been mowed repeatedly by the School District but is actually coming back once they put the fence up and stopped mowing.

Save the Trees- Seattle calls Mayor Nickel’s decision hypocritical because he has strongly touted the need to save trees in Seattle and increase our urban canopy. Yet when he has a chance to save a threatened urban grove of trees he fails to act.

Citizens have to spend time and resources trying to save trees across the city because the Mayor and City Council have failed to enact needed stronger tree preservation ordinances. Other cities like Redmond and Lake Forest Park for example require a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches in diameter. Here in Seattle people can cut down almost anything they want without a permit or city permission. That is one of the reasons the cities tree canopy has decreased from 40% in 1973 to only 18% today.

The Mayor’s actions speak louder than words. His lack of commitment to save trees when given the chance like at Ingraham High School shows he has a stronger preference for more development and parking lots than he does for saving our green urban habitat. His lack of decisive action to save the trees joins him with the Seattle School District in their disregard for protecting our neighborhoods, our natural environment and our diminishing green urban canopy and diverse habitats.

Link to DPD website with decision on application #3009549: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/LUIB/AttachmentProject3009549ID31883009549.pdf

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