The City of Sisters issued a stop-work order to the Sisters School District last Thursday, ordering them to cease tree removal on the District's campuses. The City asserts that the District project has removed too many trees.

"It has come to the City's attention that the School District has not complied with the Urban Forest Board's (UFB) approval to remove trees on the District's properties," the notice read. "Due to this violation of the approval granted by the UFB, per SDD 1.4.700, we are ordering any further removal of Significant Trees on School District property to stop immediately. No tree removal related activity or work shall commence until further notice."

The stop-work order was initiated by City Manager Brant Kucera after being notified by UFB member Gerry Bertagna that the tree removal at the middle school allegedly exceeded the agreed-upon protocol by the UFB, the District, contractor Dave Vitelle of Bear Mountain Fire, and City Forester Dan Galecki. Kucera consulted with the Community Development Department after talking with Bertagna.

The stop-work order was authored by Community Development Director Patrick Davenport and Senior Planner BreAnne McConkie and went out over Davenport's signature. Kucera indicated that no other contact, by phone or in person, was made with either the District or Vitelle prior to issuance of the stop-work order, which was both emailed and hand-delivered to Superintendent Curt Scholl, Director of Operations Ryan Stock, and Bond Project Manager Brett Hudson.

As reported in the August 30 edition of The Nugget ("City and schools Reach compromise"), a tour of all three school campuses was scheduled after the District's removal of large ponderosas in the City's right-of-way along East Cascade Avenue in front of the elementary school. The City has authority over trees in public rights-of-way. Permission for removal should have been sought by the District.

The tour visited all locations where trees were slated for removal, with Galecki and Vitelle explaining their differing rationale for which trees should be removed and which saved. Galecki took a much more conservative approach, leaving more juniper trees in place and more trees overall.

Following the tour, a UFB meeting of all the tour attendees was held back at City Hall. Following discussion, motions were passed regarding tree removal on each of the three campuses. There appeared to be general agreement among all parties involved that Vitelle would use a "light thinning approach" of mainly diseased and hazard trees and those in close proximity to paved areas like sidewalks, paths, and parking lots.

The most attention was focused on the area in front of the middle school, between the parking lot and Highway 242. Vitelle had marked all junipers for removal and the UFB and Galecki thought that was too aggressive.

Calling it a "dual entry" approach, Vitelle would do a light treatment first, leaving those junipers not in close proximity to healthy ponderosas, especially over toward the property line with the Sisters Community Church.

UFB chairman Dave Moyer said, "Leave junipers that have space around them. They aren't going to hurt anything." Vitelle said that he would leave some of the junipers. There are currently two left standing toward the front of the middle school property.

The result was a "gentlemen's agreement" with no clear, measurable standards - and now there is disagreement as to whether the thinning was done according to the agreement.

Vitelle said he contracted with the District to remove the trees at no cost to the District. Vitelle told The Nugget that the District "absolutely" complied with the August agreement and engaged in lighter thinning than originally planned.

"There's plenty of wildlife trees, wildlife thickets, lots of blue-marked trees that we initially wanted to take that we didn't," he said. "The proof is in the pudding; it's on the ground."

Vitelle expressed frustration, asserting that there had been "no reachout, no dialogue ... from anybody at the City" indicating that they were concerned about the number of trees he was removing after the agreement - just the stop-work order.

Superintendent Scholl told The Nugget that the District and the City of Sisters have a good relationship and that he planned to talk to Davenport and that he is "sure we can work this out with the City."

The stop-work letter states, "The UFB will be meeting on Monday, October 9, 2017, to discuss the violation, removal, and remedy including but not limited to a tree replacement plan for Significant Trees removed, a planting plan for the unauthorized removal of right-of-way trees at the elementary school, and potential fines for violations. Until then, no tree removal related activity or work shall commence until further notice."

At the time of news deadline on Monday, The Nugget was waiting to hear back from Galecki, Stock, City Public Works Director Paul Bertagna, and UFB members.

Some of the questions still to be answered include: How "light thinning" is objectively measured and whether the proposed protocol or plan was ever clearly spelled out. Also at question is what will be done with the timber that is removed from district property.

News editor Jim Cornelius contributed to this report.