WESTON -- Officials are offering a $1,000 reward in the hope of finding whoever poisoned nine of the stately trees that have provided decades of shade and respite in Weston City Park.
A yet-to-be-identified chemical is believed to have been purposely used last week to damage a swath of sycamores, firs, blue spruce and a weeping willow tree ranging in age from 70 to 90 years old, Weston Police Sgt. Joshua Henningsen said this morning.
The damage has been estimated at more than $100,0000. Consequently, that makes the crime a felony, Henningsen said.
The substance was detected during routine maintenance late last week by a Public Works employee who reported a strong chemical odor to the mayor. The report set off a chain reaction of events that includes an evaluation of the trees, a collection of chemical samples and testing that continues this week, Henningsen said.
"The goal is to identify what type of chemical was used so we can see if we can counteract it," Henningsen said.
Time is of the essence, he added. Limbs on several of the trees are already showing physical signs of damage and deterioration. However, attempting to fix the situation without knowing what chemical was used could be more detrimental, he added.
He said samples were initially sent to Oregon State University's Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Hermiston. Officials there referred Weston authorities to the Portland lab, where the samples have since been sent.
Henningsen said workers in the Portland lab said the chemical odor was so strong when the shipment arrived that they're wanting to treat the substance with extreme care.
The criminal act has a major effect at the park, he said. "The trees provide a lot of shade and also habitat for birds," Henningsen said. "They're important not only to the community but to the environment. A lot of people are in disbelief over it."
A more thorough estimate of the financial damage will come from a complete environmental impact study, he added.
He said City Council members agreed Wednesday to offer the $1,000 reward for information the leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.
He said the information must be credible and provide direct evidence or testimony that can be used to prosecute the case. The reward will be paid after an arrest and conviction.
Those with information are asked to call 541-566-2277, visit the police department at 112 E. Main St. or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.