IRG underbrush clearing prompts concerns from residents, city officials

Homeless encampments, illegal activity necessitated removal of shrubs on former Weyerhaeuser property, IRG says.

Federal Way residents and city officials are concerned with the manner in which Industrial Realty Group recently cleared underbrush on the former Weyerhaeuser campus.

Brian Davis, the city’s director of community development, said he received in mid-February a “flurry” of inquiries from the public about what was happening near the Weyerhaeuser Technology Center, 32901 Weyerhaeuser Way S.

Davis told the City Council at its Feb. 20 meeting that last December the city authorized underbrush clearing on the 425-acre property IRG purchased in 2016.

“They wanted to do some minor clearing of non-significant trees which under the ‘94 code was permitted if it was needed to address a threat to public health and safety,” Davis said, adding that the 1994 code governs the property.

Tom Messmer, vice president of special projects for IRG, said the clearing was necessary to help curb homeless encampments and illegal activity on the property. DaVita, a Fortune 500 company specializing in dialysis services, did similar clearing on property it purchased from IRG last July.

“At that time, we’d been dealing with ongoing documented issues related to not only homeless encampments but also other illegal activities, such as stolen property stashed in the wooded areas on the land, the most recent being a small boat stolen from a North Lake resident and stashed in the woods near Weyerhaeuser Way to be picked up later,” Messmer said in an email. “In the prior six-month period, we worked with the city police to clear, and clean up after, two very large encampments. Those cleanups cost us thousands of dollars and each included significant signs of open burning (propane and campfires). One smaller encampment was on the shore of North Lake at the boat launch.”

IRG hired Rainier Wood Recyclers of Covington to clear the property. Rainier Wood Recyclers recently cleared brush adjacent to the Kitts Corner Apartments, near 13th Place South and South 336th Street, the site of a large homeless encampment. Messmer said the contractor used the same process, equipment, operators and parameters on the IRG as it did at Kitts Corner.

“Our goal has been to address all the areas of the campus where Securitas and Federal Way police have documented this dangerous and/or illegal activity, undertaking this in a phased approach, beginning with the area in front of the tech center,” he said. “Future phases will seek permits to clear additional areas.”

Debbie Connell, who worked at the Weyerhaeuser Technology Center for 25 years, said she was disappointed with the results of the clearing.

“What has happened to that landscape now is nothing short of environmental rape,” Connell said during public comment at the Feb. 20 council meeting. “I know they are calling it clearing of underbrush, and I know that it has to do with the homeless situation in Federal Way, which I know is hard. In the 25 years I was there, I never saw a sign of a homeless person anywhere near that property. I question whether there were any now.”

She urged the city to make sure the trees on the campus aren’t damaged again.

“This property is a jewel in this part of the world,” Connell said. “I am at a loss as to how it has gotten this way.”

Davis said city staff went to the property last month to make sure the conditions of the clearing were being met. One of the conditions is that no trees larger than 5 inches in diameter be removed.

“We did find that the tress that were removed were in fact below 5 inches,” he said.

Some of the trees were frayed or in groups of several trees, which may have made them look larger, Davis said.

Mayor Jim Ferrell visited the site on Feb. 22 following the outpouring of concern from residents.

“What was done out there clearly, from my point of view, exceeded the scope of what we anticipated for that clearing,” he said. “It was particularly disappointing to see significant trees manipulated in that manner as they were.”

City staff has contacted IRG to ensure precautions are taken with future clearing.

“Brian Davis has affirmed that the city recognizes our right to clear nuisance underbrush in order to make the land less prone to the illegal activity documented in the past,” Messmer said. “In return, the city has asked us to undertake clearing of the future phases in a modified manner and we have agreed. We are in the process of preparing applications for future clearing and I believe that both IRG and the city have appropriately addressed the process to allow us to clear underbrush and to meet these new city requirements.”

Residents are concerned about manner in which trees on the former Weyerhaeuser property were removed. Heidi Sanders, the Mirror

Residents are concerned about manner in which trees on the former Weyerhaeuser property were removed. Heidi Sanders, the Mirror