SEATTLE - The public outcry over an illegal clear cutting in West Seattle has put a lot of pressure on the city to figure out who did it. Monday, the city attorney says some of the culprits have been identified.
The 1 1/2 acres sits behind homes along the 3200 block of 35th Avenue Southwest. The neighborhood is mostly view property that looks back on downtown Seattle, the Cascades, and Mount Rainier.
Sometime in late January, according to the city, someone took a chainsaw to 150 trees, leaving parts of the trunks standing. Their branches left strewn in every direction.
Standing in the middle of the clearing, Cass Turnbull, an advocate for urban green spaces, looks uphill and accuses someone of doing it for one simple reason.
"For their private gain. Everybody else is looking at an ugly clear cut," said Turnbull. "These people get more water view. I don't know why they don't see the ugliness of it. People have a way of seeing money before they see beauty."
One of those homeowners living uphill is Charles King, who remembers seeing the tree cutters at work behind his home several weeks ago.
"I saw them down there," King said. "There was two people."
But both he and his wife deny hiring them.
"Thank God I didn't do it," said Shirley King. "Because the person who did it is going to be in trouble right?
The city attorney says you better believe it.
Pete Holmes says the city has received a letter from an attorney representing multiple parties responsible, hoping to make amends. It's unclear if they knew what they did was wrong beforehand.
"That they went through an attorney to self report, they certainly are aware now that this was city property, not just city property but in a very fragile area," said Holmes.
Fragile not just because the environmental impact. Felling trees on a critical slope like this one could make the hillside unstable and prone to landslides.
The attorney, Clayton Graham, with the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, emailed KING 5. He represents a client who hired contractors to do the work, but not all of it.
"...a client who, along with other neighbors, hired a landscaping business to top and prune some trees to improve the view from their respective residences. After limited discussions with the contractors, my client returned from an out-of-town trip to find the scene shown in the news reports: To our clients’ surprise and dismay, several trees were cut at or near the base, as opposed to just limited pruning work."
Graham says this group of neighbors offered to restore any damage caused by the work. However, while they admit to hiring the contractors to do the end at the north end of the impacted area, they claim they are not responsible for the tree clearing at the south end of the impacted area.
The city attorney's office hopes more neighbors will come forward by contacting the Seattle Police Department's non-emergency line, (206) 625-5011.
Holmes says the damage to the city property could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the responsible parties could face felony charges as well.