Central Oregon city sues after company cuts Christmas tree

FILE - Christmas tree (SBG photo)

REDMOND, Ore. (AP) — A city in central Oregon seeks $62,000 from a tree removal company that accidentally cut down a big spruce that was slated to become the city's Christmas tree.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Redmond officials allege that workers trespassed on land owned by the city and removed a tree that was intended to be part of a park expansion near City Hall, The Bulletin newspaper reported .

Keith Leitz, human resources director for the city, said the 40-foot (12-meter) blue spruce is difficult to replace, because of its size and location near the center of town. He said the city resorted to a lawsuit because it couldn't agree with the company on compensation.

The mistake occurred in March after a property management company asked Fagen Tree & Chips to remove a spruce.

Company owner Wade Fagen said an employee accidentally went to a property three blocks to the east, where he encountered a similar spruce tree with tape and cones around it. He said the removal was an honest mistake and criticized the city for taking legal action.

"I think they're just trying to profit off a bad situation," Fagen said Tuesday.

The city's tree was marked with tape and cones to prevent it from being removed, Leitz said. The parcel the tree sat on had been transferred to the city as part of a plan to expand Centennial Park in downtown Redmond.

As part of the expansion, a house near the tree in question was removed, but Leitz said the city was careful to keep the tree safe. He said the plan was to use the spruce as a Christmas tree once the park was completed in 2019.

The suit invokes an Oregon law that says that anyone who unlawfully removes a tree on someone else's property is liable for three times the cost of the damage. Fagen said the statute is designed to prevent timber theft, and shouldn't be applied to an inadvertent removal.

"There's no value (to me); I wasn't stealing anything," Fagen said.

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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com

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