In a unique case of mistaken identity, a massive spruce tree slated to become the Redmond Christmas tree was accidentally cut down in March.

Last week, the city of Redmond filed a lawsuit against Fagen Tree & Chips, a Bend-based tree removal company, alleging that employees trespassed on land owned by the city and removed a tree that was intended to be part of a park expansion near Redmond’s city hall.

The suit seeks $62,000 in damages, invoking an obscure Oregon statute that says that anyone who unlawfully removes a tree on someone else’s property is liable for three times the cost of the damage.

Wade Fagen, the owner of the tree-removal company, said the removal was an honest mistake and criticized the city for taking legal action against his small business.

“I think they’re just trying to profit off a bad situation,” Fagen said.

Still, Keith Leitz, human resources director for the city, said the approximately 40-year-old, 40-foot blue spruce in question is very difficult to replace, thanks to its size and its location near the center of town.

With the city and the company unable to agree on compensation, Leitz said a suit is the city’s best remaining course of action.

“At this point, we’re left with no other option,” Leitz said.

In the middle of March, Fagen Tree & Chips received a call from a property management company requesting the removal of a spruce tree with a root problem from its property, near the corner of SW 12th Street and SW Deschutes Avenue.

However, Fagen said the employee tasked with removing the tree got his paperwork mixed up and accidentally went to a property three blocks to the east, where he encountered a very similar spruce tree with tape and cones around it. Consequently, his company removed the wrong tree by accident, Fagen said.

“It’s just unbelievable that it happened,” he said.

Fagen declined to name the employee in question, adding that the employee “just felt sick” about removing the wrong tree.

“He’s a great guy; he just made a brain fart of a mistake,” Fagen said.

Ironically, the city’s tree was marked with tape and cones to prevent it from being removed, according to Leitz. The parcel the tree sat on, at 414 SW Ninth St., was 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.

Fagen said he’d heard that the tree wasn’t healthy prior to being cut down, but Leitz disagreed. Leitz said the plan was to use the spruce as a Christmas tree, complete with seasonal lighting, once the park was completed in mid-2019.

“It was in almost perfect shape,” Leitz said.

The lawsuit, filed by Steven Bryant of the Redmond law firm Bryant Emerson LLP, cites a portion of Oregon Revised Statutes that states that anyone who damages or removes a tree or shrub from someone else’s land is liable for three times the cost of the damage.

Fagen said the statute is designed to prevent timber theft, and said it shouldn’t be applied to an inadvertent removal.

“There’s no value (to me); I wasn’t stealing anything,” Fagen said.

However, Leitz said the statute can be applied more broadly, covering everything from trees in a neighbor’s lawn to shrubs along a state highway. Bryant could not be reached for comment about the suit.

This isn’t the first time Fagen’s company has inadvertently removed trees that aren’t on the correct property. In 2014, Fagen’s workers removed a ponderosa pine tree that was 15 to 20 feet from the edge of property belonging to the person who hired them, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

Fagen said he was open to planting another large spruce tree for the city, but Leitz said finding a perfect replacement for the felled spruce has been a challenge. He added that the city has looked for appropriate spruces in other parts of Oregon, as well as Washington and Colorado, but they’ve either been too small or too difficult to transport and replant.

In the meantime, Fagen, who said he found out about the suit Tuesday morning after being out of town over Memorial Day weekend, said he plans to discuss this with Redmond’s City Council in the hope of coming to a reasonable compromise.

“This is just one of those horrible things,” he said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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