Seattle will receive $440,000 by settling one of two lawsuits it brought against homeowners last year in connection with the cutting of city-owned trees in West Seattle.
The city of Seattle will be paid $440,000 to settle one of two lawsuits it brought against homeowners last year in connection with the cutting down of trees in a public greenbelt.
The city accused the homeowners of laying waste to more than 150 trees in two neighboring sections of the West Seattle greenbelt to improve their views.
Stanley and Mary Harrelson and Marty and Karrie Riemer will together hand over $440,000 to settle the lawsuit in which they were named. The other suit is still active.
“These trees are a vital resource and this settlement puts people on notice,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said during a Wednesday news conference on the settlement.
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In a statement, Holmes said the settlement accomplishes three goals. It recovers money to make the city whole, holds people accountable for the destruction and makes the public aware that harming public lands brings consequences, he said.
The cutting, first reported by The Seattle Times last March, occurred in late 2015 or early 2016, on more than an acre of greenbelt on the hillside near the 3200 block of 35th Avenue Southwest, above Southwest Admiral Way.
Trees of varying sizes were destroyed, including many big-leaf maples and Scouler’s willows, and were left lying on a steep slope designated by the city as an environmentally-critical area at risk for landslides.
The city will use the money from the settlement for restoration work on the slope and for summer youth programs, officials said. The parks department expects to begin the restoration work in the next month or two and complete most of it this year.
Officials said the settlement sum is greater per tree than the amount Seattle received in a settlement in the city’s last high-profile tree-cutting case, in Mount Baker.
That case, stemming from a 2003 incident, involved 120 trees and a bill of $500,000. The Harrelson and Riemer settlement involves 66 trees, the officials said.
“The penalties have to be strong enough so that those with financial means don’t see this as sort of a shortcut — pay a small settlement and get your views,” said City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle.
“I think this settlement does send that message.”
In the Harrelson and Riemer suit, the city alleged the couples had hired two individuals — Forrest Bishop and John Russo — to cut down the trees.
Seattle claimed the defendants had felled the trees without permission and should have known better.
The city said they had committed trespass, timber trespass, damage to land and negligence and had violated several city laws related to public space and the environment, damaging not only the trees but also the land below.
In the settlement, the city has assigned its claims against Bishop and Russo to the Harrelsons and Riemers, allowing the couples to sue the alleged cutters.
In statements, the Harrelsons and Riemers said they accept responsibility for their parts in the cutting.
Seattle has amended the other suit, which initially named only Kostas and Linda Kyrimis, to also include as defendants Nancy Despain, Wendy Sweigart, Leroy Bernard, Joyce Bernard, Charles King, Shirley King and Bruce Gross.
The city gave the Kyrimises immunity from criminal charges in exchange for their cooperation in the case, including naming neighbors who allegedly shared in the tree-cutting but who had previously been identified in the suit as Jane and John Does.