Locals, Students Against Mill Creek Levee Tree Removal


Keifer Nace

Photo by Nace.

Mikaela Slade, News Writer

The Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled this month to begin removing trees along the Mill Creek Levee and replace them with grass in order to comply with a government policy that requires all trees within 15 feet of a levee to be removed. The removal has met a strong rebuttal from parts of the Walla Walla community and some Whitman students.

Retired Professor of Geology Bob Carson has been a leading advocate against the tree removal. Carson has been arguing that removing these trees will only cause more damage to the levee than if they merely left them in place.

“They [the Army Corps] are arguing that these roots are making these levees weaker. We are arguing that if they cut down the trees and take the root balls out that these roots will rot and leave hollow cylinders inside the levee,” said Carson. “If these levees get saturated during a flood the water will start flowing through these hollow cylinders.”

According to Carson, there is an on-going investigative study into whether or not the roots of trees are actually making the levee weaker and, if not, whether they still need to be removed. This study is still inconclusive but is expected to be completed in under a year.

“We are asking the Corps to delay this cutting down of all these trees until the study is complete, which will probably be less than a year,” said Carson.

Carson and a few other advocates presented their arguments to City Council at a Sept. 23 meeting, which was successful in getting City Council to sign a letter asking for the tree removal to be delayed until a full study could be completed. However, a report from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin suggests that City Council members may instead write a letter in support of the tree removal after some Council members took a tour of the levee with an Army Corps leader on Sept. 30. That decision will be pending a vote of the full Council at their next meeting.

The Conservation Chair of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society Chris Howard has been working with the community to put a stop to this project as well. Howard was receiving a lot of input from different members of the community about protecting the trees, so he put together the Facebook group, Save the Trees on Mill Creek Levee Coalition.

Photo by Nace.
Photo by Nace.

“I realized there were a lot of people who were concerned, but not united,” said Howard. “So I started the Save the Trees on Mill Creek Levee Coalition to pull together different user groups.”

Howard organized a protest to illustrate the community’s disapproval. They began with a march through Walla Walla, then moved on to speaking with City Council members to try and get local government involved.

“We met at the Corp office and marched through the Farmers Market and all the way down Main Street with signs and slogans,” said Howard. “We got a lot of attention because you don’t see those in Walla Walla very often.”

Students at Whitman started hearing about developments last week and began gathering signatures on petitions during lunch from around campus to send to the Army Corps and illustrate their discontent with the project. Lydia Petroske is among these students, and has been working with the members of Save The Trees On Mill Creek Levee Coalition Facebook group to aid them in their efforts of stopping this project.

“It has been kind of a last ditch effort,” said Petroske. “There have been about eight students that showed up the to protest the was organized by Chris [Howard].”

These students plan on taking the signatures in support of saving the trees that they have acquired over the past week and sending them into the Army Corps on Fri., Oct. 2 as a final stance in order to stop them from removing these trees.

“Students are just now becoming aware of the issue, now that the project has started to commence,” said Petroske. “We have been meeting at lunch and gathering signatures, which we are going to scan in and send to the Corps.”

However, according to Howard, the Corps still seems to be preparing for the tree removal even with these signs of protest from the community.

“At this point, nothing has seemed to make a dent on the Corps. They are basically determined to go through with this project, regardless of how the community feels about it,” said Howard.