By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Whatchamacolumn: Lots to know about McMinnville's trees

Our July 18 news story about responsibility for “street trees” included a candidate for understatement of the year by describing concerns that “there’s a disconnect between city rules and public knowledge.”

That concern could apply to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of words related to McMinnville city policies, plans, rules and laws. But for now let’s stick to trees, with an added nod to sidewalks.

Property owners outside the downtown are responsible for watering, weeding, pruning and replacement of trees located within the street right-of-way, mostly being that area between sidewalks and curbs. If tree roots dislocate that sidewalk, the property owner is responsible for repair/replacement of the walkway, with no help from public funds as provided when downtown trees damage sidewalks.

Pruning includes maintenance of physical clearance for pedestrians and visual clearance for drivers on adjacent streets. City permits are required for heavy pruning, removal and replacement of street trees. City regulations extend to “significant or historic trees,” to trees with trunks partially within public right-of-way, and to private property trees that affect public infrastructure such as sewers, water mains, sidewalks, streets, public property or clear vision distances at street intersections.

Property owners are responsible for all costs related to street trees, subject to city regulations that can raise those costs considerably.

Those are just the day-to-day regulations. When it comes to downtown McMinnville, stories about trees are going to be big news for some time.

Public officials and expert arborists have determined that most Third Street trees must be removed for a major streetscape development project that could begin as early as 2026. That might have been avoided had the city fully followed long-standing policies of downtown tree rotation to provide, as we editorialized back in 2001, “multi-aged trees both for variety and to avoid a wholesale removal at some point.”

It’s a little late for that now. And things could get more complicated as officials consider what to do with existing sidewalk safety issues in a zone where any expensive improvements would just be torn up and replaced in a few years.

Despite all the news stories, public meetings and citizen-involvement, we can expect a passionate public outcry when time comes to remove that 50-year-old downtown tree canopy. People will claim there was no warning, and some will demand a stop to the plan.

And once again, we will be reporting that “There’s a disconnect between city rules and public knowledge.”

News-Register publisher Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


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