By JESSE BURKHARDT
A big cottonwood tree in Bingen's Daubenspeck Park, which was incorporated into the landscaping of the new skateboard facility recently completed, has avoided the cutter's ax -- at least for now.
The Bingen City Council, acting on the advice of several arborists, recently decided to shelve plans to cut the tree down and allow at least another year before making a final decision on the big tree's fate.
The cottonwood was on the chopping block out of concerns that its roots could crack the concrete of the new $200,000 skatepark -- or worse, that someone could be injured by falling branches as the tree nears the end of its natural lifespan.
Arborists have expressed concern that the tree's roots may have been damaged during skatepark construction, and as a result the tree's natural lifespan may have been shortened. If that is the case, branches from the weakened tree could break off and fall on people.
"The tree has been damaged, and could die in the next five years," explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending.
One of the arborists, Patrick Milling of Milling Tree Care, recommended to the city that the tree be monitored and pruned every year, keeping an eye out for damaged or dying branches that could fall. Milling said the roots may damage the concrete sometime in the future, but added that it is also possible that the roots may continue to just expand out beyond the skatepark and never have an impact.
The Bingen tree is estimated to be approximately 60 years old. The lifespan of a typical cottonwood tree is about 75 years.
At a recent council meeting, Bingen resident Richard Tillinghast said he believes the tree has a positive impact on youngsters using the park. He added that he appreciates that the tree was used to serve as a centerpiece of the skatepark.
Tillinghast said he does not think the roots of the tree will grow much more, and thus it would be a tragic overreaction to remove the tree based on that issue.
Another resident, Bo Vanderkloot, said if the tree were to be removed, that action in itself could cause the concrete to crack. Vanderkloot explained that if the tree is taken out, voids could occur in the ground as the dead roots decayed. That could cause the concrete to sag and crack.
Council member Laura Mann made a motion to reconsider a previous decision to remove the tree. That motion was unanimously approved in a vote by the full council.
Mann then made a second motion to evaluate the health of the tree again in October 2011. That motion also was unanimously approved.
Brending said the city plans to look at the tree later in the year, after its annual growth cycle, to see if it appears damaged or if its leaves are dying.
"It's a year by year situation. We're going to monitor it. If we can maintain it and keep it healthy, why not leave it to provide shade," Brending said.
Brending added that when the designs for the skatepark were drawn up by Grindline Construction -- the Seattle company that designed the skatepark -- the tree was originally slated for removal.
"Later, the designer said it was a nice feature; let's leave it in," Brending explained. "But they didn't think everything through."