Lawsuit Filed by Save the Trees against Seattle School District

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


For Immediate release:
August 12, 2008
Save the Trees Press Release
For More Information Contact:
Steve Zemke

Save the Trees has filed a lawsuit with the King County Superior Court against the Seattle Public School’s proposal to cut down 68 old evergreen trees at Ingraham High School without adequate environmental review.

The King County Court has assigned the case a hearing date of Sept 2nd, 2008 at 1:30 PM. The Case number is 08-2-26887-0SEA. The Case Caption is Save the Trees, v. Seattle School District No.1, State of Washington.

The lawsuit alleges that the Seattle School District has violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), RCW 43.21C and SEPA Rules, WAC 197-11, by deciding to proceed with the Ingraham High School Renovation, Demolition and New Construction Project without adequate environmental review.

Plaintiffs have exhausted all remedies within the Seattle School District including appealing the project through a Seattle Public Schools hearing examiner. In order to avoid further city review of the proposed project, the Seattle School District said last Wednesday that “the District has withdrawn their pending application for a Master Use Permit for the projects, as well as the building permit application and grading permit application”

By this evading of further review by the city as to land use and environmental laws the school district hoped to avoid review of whether building a new addition at Ingraham High School in a large grove of 75 year old, 100 feet tall would violate city environmental laws.

Seattle environmental law under SMC25.05.67N2a states “It is the cities policy to minimize or prevent the loss of wildlife habitat and other vegetation which have substantial aesthetic, educational, ecological and/or economic value.”

Overlooked by the Seattle School District and discovered by the plaintiffs during their review of the project was that the grove of 130 Douglas fir, Madrone and western red cedar trees on the west side of Ingraham High School was a unique environmental habitat. Unknown by the Seattle School District was the fact that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources under their Natural Heritage Program had classified the plant habitat actually present at Ingraham as a rare plant community in King County.

The Seattle School District also had not acknowledged the fact that the tree grove was used as a school and neighborhood park. These and other facts will be part of the appeal by Save the Trees.

Meanwhile the question remains as to whether the Seattle School District will agree to put their proposed tree cutting and removal scheduled on August 15th and 16th on hold.

The School District has incurred tremendous public outrage from both Seattle public officials and citizens for this blatant attempt to get around existing land use and environmental laws.

The Seattle School Board has called a special executive committee meeting for this evening (Tuesday August 12, 2008) from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM to discuss their response to the law suit.

It is hoped by Save the Trees that the Seattle School District will withdraw their threat of cutting down the trees this Friday and Saturday and allow the environmental review process to proceed as normal and delay any action to cut the trees until the case is properly reviewed by the Courts.

Ron English, an attorney for the Seattle School District has written an e-mail to Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann who is representing the plaintiffs, noting that he did not have the authority to stop the tree cutting and that the decision was up to the School Board. That is one of the issues they are discussing tonight.

If the Seattle School District decides not to cancel the tree cutting, Ron English said that the plaintiffs would have time to go to King County Superior Court to request a restraining order as the District had no intent of cutting the trees down before Friday.

Of course with the construction permits withdrawn, the Seattle School Board also has the option of dropping the proposal to build the addition in the grove of trees and move it to another site, like the open lawn area on the North side of the school.

This would remove any further delay from the project, as litigation regarding the trees is expected to take 6 months or more and the School District has no certainty they would prevail with a full review of the project and alternatives if the Court rules an EIS is needed.


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