WALLA WALLA — A short-lived battle over six long-lived trees is over. The sycamores of Rose Street lost.
Six trees were removed recently to improve, among other things, visibility for motorists. An additional sycamore was removed due to infestation.
“The sycamore trees that line Rose Street are not static items,” Walla Walla civil engineer Monte Puymon said. “As they have grown they have impacted transportation in a few ways.”
Vehicle sight distance concerns were one aspect, he said. “Another is that as these trees grew, they displaced the curb, gutter, and roadway, impacting storm drainage as well as the street structure and surface.”
Though not ideal, the 43 remaining sycamores still provide ample shade, noted Dan Clark, who over the years has fought to keep the trees.
“These are neighborhood assets,” said Clark, Walla Walla 2020 coordinator and vice president. “They provide shade and create an environment for everybody in the neighborhood, not just those who live there.”
Two decades ago Walla Walla 2020 faced a similar battle, but in the former case all 50 trees were threatened.
“I have a real attachment to those trees because they are really on railroad property, and they were a nuisance to the railroad, which was considering taking them all out,” Clark said.
The result of that battle was in 1994 the care of all 50 sycamores was turned over to the city. Later, a dedicated path was set along the trees, creating a shady lane for pedestrians and cyclists.
Then in the spring of this year a new threat arose, but this time it was from the city as officials announced that if Rose Street was kept at four lanes, sycamores would fall.
“We want to preserve as many of the 50 large sycamore trees as possible and are looking at removing as few as two and up to a maximum of 10 trees,” the Rose Street design team wrote in a guest article published in the Union-Bulletin. “The final decision will be made based on improving visibility.”
City officials also made it clear that the option that would lead to the fewest tree removals would require the reconfiguring of Rose Street down to two lanes and one center turn lane. But that option was overrun by a public outcry over losing two lanes of traffic.
So in May, City Council voted 5-2 to reverse an earlier decision to go with the two-lane option and instead resurface and make other improvements to the original four-lanes configuration. But that meant trees would fall.
Earlier this month, after the doomed trees were shorn of their foliage and branches, protest and prayer notes were draped across some of the bare trunks.
Then last week, the seven remaining trunks were completely removed.
“The debate about how to reconstruct Rose Street, it really brought out the importance of those trees to the community,” Clark said. “And the community spoke up.”
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.