Fallen tree poses challenge

Floaters drift around a fallen willow tree on the Deschutes River on Tuesday afternoon just upriver from the Galveston Street bridge. Photo: Rob Kerr / The Bulletin

When the massive willow tree on Northwest Riverfront Street crashed into the Deschutes River on Tuesday afternoon, it put a lot of people in a tough situation.

“We’re going to have to use some ingenuity and problem-solving skills to figure it out,” Wade Fagen, a tree specialist with Fagen Tree Service and Wood Chips, said. “The tree is in the most impossible spot I’ve ever found a tree in.”

The tree, until its roots gave way, stood on the east bank of the Deschutes. Now it blocks half the river and is proving a challenge to even seasoned tree removal professionals. With the diameter of the trunk measuring about 4 feet, and the fence gate it must go through only 36 inches wide, Fagen is having to find a way to make the impossible possible. Even if the tree could fit through the gate, the crane that would be needed to lift the tree over nearby houses would be too heavy for the driveway concrete.

“The size of crane that we’d need would probably crush the driveway,” Fagen said.

At this point, Fagen said, the most feasible option would be to cut the tree into pieces that can be floated downstream under the Galveston Avenue bridge. Crews would then use a crane stationed on the bridge to lift the pieces out of the water. This would most likely close a traffic lane, Fagen said.

He is working with homeowners and city officials to secure the job, and schedule a time for it. Fagen said his crews will try to work at night or in the early morning to avoid creating traffic congestion on the bridge.

Fagen said the removal project will cost less than $10,000. The owners of the property where the tree stood on Riverfront Street will most likely end up footing the bill, he said. The tree stood on a line between two properties.

“It’s going to be a very huge, tricky job,” said Pam Stevenson, one of the property owners. “It’s an unusual situation. You have this enormous tree sitting in a high-use area of the river.”

Stevenson spent much of Wednesday talking to tree specialists, city officials, insurance companies and Bend Park & Recreation District officials. She said her biggest concern is the danger the fallen tree poses to river floaters and rafters.

On hot, sunny summer days, Stevenson has counted as many as 500 floaters an hour drifting by in the stretch of river that is now partially blocked.

“Most people in rafts would have enough common sense to stay away from the tree,” Fagen said. “But all it takes is one person who can cause problems for everyone else.”

Stevenson said her insurance company informed her Wednesday that it would cover only $500 of her share of the removal costs.

“We’re trying to figure out now how to pay for it,” Stevenson said. “We hope to get some help with it.”

Marybeth Stewart, the owner of the neighboring property that the tree stood on, is in the same situation. After a meeting with city officials and Fagen late Wednesday afternoon, she said she is unsure when the tree will be removed. She wants to get several quotes from tree removal specialists, and is hoping the city will chip in for at least some of the costs.

The tree graced the banks of the Deschutes for about 50 years. Its fall was caused by rot, which took hold after the tree was scarred at some point, Fagen said.

Stevenson is holding a memorial service at 7 p.m. today by the tree, in which community members can honor the fallen giant and take cuttings of it.

“Everyone loved the tree, and it loved everyone back,” Stevenson said. “It had a wonderful life.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

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