Seattle officials announced Wednesday that the city has settled a case involving unauthorized cutting of 66 trees in a West Seattle public greenbelt.
Two couples—Stanley and Mary Harrelson and Marty and Karrie Riemer—will pay $440,000 from the settlement after the city alleged that homeowners cut a swath of trees, near the 3200 block of 35th Avenue Southwest, to improve their views. Most of the money will go toward remediation at the site, city officials said, and $100,000 will be allocated toward mayor Ed Murray's youth summer program.
"This settlement puts people on notice that the city will not ignore any unauthorized cutting of city trees," city attorney Pete Holmes said at a press conference Wednesday.
The city is still undergoing another lawsuit filed against a second group of homeowners in the same area, located on a steep slope in a potential landslide area above the West Seattle Bridge. About 150 trees were felled in the West Seattle block in late 2015 or early last year and resulted in the city filing two lawsuits against groups of people allegedly responsible for the cutting. Both couples in the settlement released statements saying they accepted responsibility.
“We have taken responsibility for our fraction of the tree cutting from the very beginning and are glad we were able to successfully resolve this with the city,” the Riemers said in a statement. Holmes said the city is not pursuing criminal charges as part of the settlement.
Officials said they'll begin restoring the hillside will begin later this year, but the city's full restoration efforts will take five years. The penalties needed to be high enough to deter people with financial means, who would be tempted to "pay a small settlement and get your views," said council member Lisa Herbold representing West Seattle. Herbold pointed out that the city's getting 60 percent more per tree compared to the 2003 case in Mount Baker, when the city sued a federal judge for allegedly cutting an acre of the park's trees, The Seattle Times reported.
Herbold also thanked Holmes and said she called him on March 26, 2016—the Saturday morning The Seattle Times published its story on the investigation—to meet him on the site that same day.
"I think the results today of the settlement are a real testament to his commitment to addressing the threat not just to the environment but to the physical safety and integrity of that area," she said.
Updated April 19, 2017, at 9:25pm. This post contains information on the city's settlement in 2003.
Updated April 20, 2017, at 10:04am. This post corrects council member Lisa Herbold's quote from "get your dues" to "get your views."