by: FILE PHOTO - Two large sequoia trees could be saved if local property owners agree to give up a portion of a sound wall planned as part of the Woodburn Interchange Project. Thirty-five residents along the Woodburn Interchange Project could make the decision on whether to save two large sequoia trees that neighbors have called on the city to protect.

Those residents, whose properties abut Highway 214 from Country Club Road east to Broughton Way, would vote whether to keep the trees and create a 100-foot gap in the sound wall or stick to the original plan of building a continuous sound wall that would lead to cutting down the trees, according to Oregon Department of Transportation plans outlined by Scott Derickson, city administrator, in an Oct. 30 email.

ODOT had been seeking to cut down the trees by submitting a significant tree removal application Sept. 5.

ODOT later put its application on hold while working with the city toward a solution amid objections from local citizen groups.

“If the impacted area residents support the break in the sound wall, ODOT will redesign the project and the sequoia trees will remain,” Derickson wrote.

“If the impacted area residents do not support the break in the sound wall, then ODOT will move forward with their significant tree removal permit application.”

ODOT has stated concerns about liability issues that could be created if construction of the sound wall damaged any of the roots of the 50-year-old trees. Discussions had been under way to obtain a liability waiver from two property owners whose homes sit in the shadow of the massive trees.

But ODOT rejected that approach when it became clear the waiver would not have been binding with future property owners and at least one of the owners stated at a recent city council meeting that he wanted the trees removed.

“We’re still looking at other possibilities, but we don’t know if they’re going to be feasible or not,” said Lou Torres, ODOT spokesman. “But keep this in mind: We’re the owner of those trees now and liability is one of our biggest issues. (Our biggest fear) is that those trees are going to go down in a big windstorm. That’s our biggest fear.”

Several concerned residents and members of the Historic Woodburn Neighborhoods Association spoke out against removal of the trees at the Oct. 14 Woodburn City Council meeting. Their common arguments were that different design solutions could be found, the trees had historic and symbolic value and the city should not allow the process to move forward without careful review.

“I think that the people who live right there should be making the decisions,” said Sharon Corning, president of the HWNA. “(ODOT and the city) did everything we were asking for – they took their time and will leave the decision up to the people who live right there.”

ODOT is still determining the feasibility of the 100-foot gap solution, which would depend upon federal approval. Earlier this year, ODOT had polled the same 35 homeowners asking for approval of a continuous sound wall in accordance with standards set by the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA).

Residents, impacted by the Woodburn Interchange Project, voted to go ahead with the sound wall.

“Somebody could say, ‘Wait a moment, you said you’re going to put up a complete sound wall,’” Torres said. “If we’re not going to have a complete sound wall, we have to go back and have a vote again.”

Even if a majority of residents approve ODOT’s new plan, the city council also would still have a look at the sound wall redesign at the Nov. 25 city council meeting.

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