Sunny Point residents rue tree clearing

Controversial cleanup

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Residents in the Sunny Point neighborhood woke up Monday morning to the roar of chain saws as an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities crew cut down trees along Sunny Drive.

"This is a complete violation of our home life and a disruption to our peace," said Archie Cavanaugh, who has lived in his house on Sunny Drive for 16 years.

Cavanaugh wasn't complaining about the noise from the chain saws. Like his neighbors, he worries about the noise from Egan Drive.

Deedie Sorensen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, said the trees have acted as a noise barrier and a natural fence.

"I haven't been this mad since Nixon was elected," Sorensen said while watching one alder tree fall after another.

DOT officials said the trees have to go.

"We need to restore the draining of the ditch," said Greg Patz, DOT's maintenance and operations chief for Southeast Alaska. "Sediments build up in the ditch. The water can't drain properly."

Judging from the trees, ferns and daisies thriving in the half-mile ditch along Sunny Drive, Patz estimates that DOT hasn't cleared the ditch for 20 years.

But Steve Sorensen, Deedie's husband, said the neighborhood has never had a drainage issue.

Last October, while DOT crew members were shredding the trees along the ditch, they were stopped by residents, who weren't aware of the state's plan. Since then, the residents have been negotiating with the department to leave the trees alone.

Patz said he agreed to clear as few trees as possible. But he said a DOT environmental study has stated that the foliage is not thick and consistent enough to abate noise from Egan Drive.

Residents had suggested planting trees along the fence of Egan Drive to block traffic noise. But Patz said it is not an option because it would be dangerous for cars running off Egan Drive to hit trees.

Patz expected the crew to clear all the trees within two days.

Michael Allen, who has lived in the Sunny Point neighborhood for seven years, walked up and down the street to take pictures before and after the clearing.

"We thought about tying ourselves to the trees," Allen said. "But we don't have the right of ways."

As DOT crew members approached his house, Cavanaugh pulled down Christmas light bulbs from the trees in front of his house. Last Christmas, the neighborhood decided to have a Christmas light display along Sunny Drive because it might be the last year the trees in front of their houses lived.

"We had to negotiate for each tree's life," Cavanaugh said. "We are grateful that they didn't take as many trees as they had planned. It had to do with our neighbors standing outside the whole day and negotiating with them."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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