Neighbors along the east side of Indian Canyon Golf Course got a surprise when they heard chainsaws at 5:40 a.m. on May 20.
A subcontractor was topping trees to clear a path alignment – or line of sight – for a microwave dish that’s part of a new county emergency communication system. The work was done without the necessary permits, city officials said.
The noise woke up Kirk Owen, who saw a group of eight huge ponderosa pines being topped next to his house. The trees provide shade, wildlife habitat and also a shield against wayward golf balls.
“I will tell you it sure doesn’t look good with the big pines cut in half; actually, it looks really bad,” said Owen, who’s lived on Westcliff Court for a little more than a year.
In the week that’s passed since the trees were topped, Owen’s neighbor has lost a garage window to a stray golf ball.
“We do kind of worry about the golf balls hitting our back deck and our windows,” Owen said. “It was pretty perfect to have the trees there.”
The eight trees are on land owned by the city of Spokane and were valued at $175,600 before the topping. They are now 25 to 30 feet shorter and worth about $139,600; they may not survive.
Spokane’s golf courses are managed by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department and its director, Leroy Eadie, was initially both surprised and confused about who had allowed the topping.
“We don’t top trees. Even if they are under power lines we find a way of pruning them instead,” Eadie said.
The communications dish is part of a network that has been under construction since 2008, said Bob Lincoln, Spokane Regional Emergency Communications Systems director. It’s about half complete.
“The new radio system will let police, state patrol, ambulances and fire all talk together,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln explained that microwave transmitters have to be able to “see” each other. Microwave and mobile technology company Motorola won the bid for the radio system and is responsible for doing the work.
“Motorola engineered it, built it and they do the path alignment,” Lincoln said, adding that his organization monitors carefully how taxpayer dollars are spent, but not necessarily every detail of the work. “We have nothing to do with how they establish the path alignments.”
Motorola could not be reached for comment. Motorola hired Comdex to install the microwave dish. A representative from Comdex referred questions to the city Parks and Recreation Department.
It was Comdex that hired Sam’s Lawn and Tree Care, a certified arborist and landscaping service located on North Division Street.
“I was under the impression that if the trees didn’t come down then the emergency system wouldn’t work,” said Sam Maple, owner of Sam’s Lawn and Tree Care. “We would never recommend that a customer tops trees, but we thought the emergency communication system was at risk.”
Only certified arborists with proper permits may prune trees within the city of Spokane. Urban forester Angel Spell wrote in an email that Sam’s Lawn and Tree Care did not have the necessary permits for this work, but she doesn’t know if the company will be fined.
Maple said he didn’t know the trees were on city-owned property or that Indian Canyon Golf Course is a city golf course. Maple’s work crew came out once to do some pruning and again to top seven trees; the eighth tree was already dead and wind damaged, Maple said.
“The golf course closed down the driving range and let us in,” Maple said. “I was under the impression that Comdex and the golf course had all the necessary permits.”
Maple said he feels like his company is unfairly stuck in the middle.
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
The Parks Department’s Eadie is frustrated that the topping was done.
“As far as I am concerned, Motorola or their subcontractor will have to pay some restitution,” Eadie said. “I believe they weren’t clear with our staff about what they were doing. Our staff was not told the trees would be topped.”
Eadie and Spell said meetings are ongoing and that it has not been determined yet how much restitution the Parks Department will be seeking or from whom.
Eadie said if the Parks Department had known what was going on they would have found a different solution than topping all the trees.
“We would have worked with them,” Eadie said. “Maybe they would have raised the dish or relocated the tower? Maybe we could have removed one tree? We would not have allowed the topping.”