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City Announces $440K Settlement With West Seattle Homeowners Over Illegal Clear-Cut

The city of Seattle has reached a settlement in one of two civil suits against homeowners in West Seattle, who allegedly hired people to illegally cut down about 150 trees on public land.

Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold thanked Seattle’s city attorney for responding to her call for help when she first read about the unauthorized cutting in The Seattle Times.

She said the settlement sends a message because it’s not just a minor fee. Two of the couples are paying $440,000, which is more than twice the amount levied for a similar case in the Mount Baker neighborhood in 2003.

“We have to make sure that our sanctions are significant enough to deter this activity in the future. And penalties have to be strong enough so that those with financial means don’t see this as sort of a shortcut — pay your settlement and get your views,” Herbold said.  

The suit sets the value of the trees at more than $120,000. They included several large leaf maples and willows. In total, five households were listed as defendants, as well as five people listed as Jane and John Does, who they allegedly paid to do the work.

Officials say the trees are important because they help clean the air and stabilize the landscape, which is more prone to slides when clear cut.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced the deal saying city trees are a vital resource and the city will not ignore any unauthorized cutting of them.

“The $440,000 settlement is a significant amount. Had the Harrelsons and Riemers not been cooperative and expressed an interest in settlement early in the litigation, we would have sought more,” Holmes said.

The legal agreement clears those two accused couples and another who secured criminal immunity in the suit, for providing detailed information to the authorities, including the identities of the neighbors allegedly sharing costs with them.

But the settlement only covers about half of the clear-cut area. Investigations for the other part are ongoing – and Holmes said those defendants now have a window of opportunity to come forward too.

The city says the settlement money will be used to start replanting the hillside. And about $100,000 will go to city programs that hire low-income young people, including some doing forest restoration on public lands.    

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

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