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Auto Yard Trees May Be Totaled

The junked cars at Spalding Auto seem destined to rust away in full view of Interstate 90 commuters.

Another setback has befallen the buffer of trees that separates the Spokane Valley wrecking yard from the four lanes of traffic.

Several dozen poplars planted along the north shoulder four years ago were accidently poisoned this spring.

With summer just begun, the 20-foot-tall trees should be a cool green, but nearly half of them are a crispy brown.

The trees probably were exposed to a herbicide Spalding uses to control weeds in its yard, said Al Gilson, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

“Spalding hired someone to sterilize their yard to control vegetation,” Gilson said. “They missed.”

Highway officials fear the poison may have forever ruined the soil under the poplars, Gilson added.

If it has, the green veil that for 30 years has shielded motorists from the hulks could be permanently defoliated.

Spalding’s owner said he doesn’t think that’s the case.

Max Spalding said this week that some of the trees are still alive. Some have green sprouts poking through the shriveled leaves, he said.

He said he’s asked the company that sprayed the herbicide to fertilize the poplars and do whatever else it takes to bring them back.

“We’re working to save them,” Spalding said. “We think there’s hope. I’m not saying how good a hope, but hope.”

Gilson said the state is monitoring Spalding’s efforts and will evaluate the situation before deciding if it will try to replace the trees.

“Right now, we don’t know if they can be replaced,” Gilson said. “I don’t know the exact answer to when this is going to be resolved.”

The mishap was the second to devastate trees in the buffer in the last five years.

In 1990, state transportation workers mistakenly cut down about 60 Austrian pines growing where the poplars now stand.

Officials ordered the trees cut because they thought the 30-foot tall pines were growing within 30 feet of the pavement, which would have violated federal safety standards.

It wasn’t until they had cut down nearly 60 trees that they discovered the pines - planted in the 1960s as part of Lady Bird Johnson’s highway beautification program - were at least 37 feet from the pavement and therefore legal.

A year later, the poplars were planted to replace the pines, at a cost of about $15,000.

Now they’ve been poisoned.

“They’ve had a hell of a time,” Spalding said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo