Ballard clear cutting rankles some residents

SEATTLE -- Trees are sacred in the City of Seattle, and that's why some people are upset that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is cutting down dozens of them in Ballard.

The clear cutting is happening around the railroad bridge west of the Ballard locks, right along the Burke-Gilman Trail.

Some locals are happy the trees are coming down because it's opening up their view of the water from Burke-Gilman Trail. Others, however, wonder why the clear cutting is necessary.

"I don't see a reason to take down all these trees here," said Charlie Patnoe.

Gus Melonas with BNSF said the project, which began last week, is all about safety. With both freight and passenger trains moving through the area, Melonas said BNSF needs the extra visibility for important communication functions.

Officials from the City of Seattle say BNSF can't cut the trees without a permit and could be fined as much as $500 per day.

"They have not obtained any sort of approval from our department. It appears they may have done that with the state at the state level, but have not done that locally with the city of Seattle. So that should have been done," said Bryan Stevens with the Seattle Planning and Development Department.

The department is now investigating, but Melonas said crews are working only on BNSF land and they have a permit from the state to cut down the trees.

That's not good enough for Stevens.

"You still have to ask for our permission and demonstrate why those trees need to be removed," he said.

BNSF also claims it falls under federal regulations to maintain safety along its tracks.

As part of the permitting process, the city generally requires a re-vegetation plan, which is something neighbors say is important to them.