Tree clearing in park draws Anchorage lawsuit

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The city has filed a lawsuit against a Hillside property owner who city officials say mowed down spruce, birch and other trees in a municipal park.

The city is trying to collect at least $50,000 in damages from Wayne Dick, who owns 2.5 acres on the eastern boundary of Snowshoe Park, a 5-acre neighborhood park. A civil lawsuit filed last week charges that Dick intentionally cut trees and shrubs over about a fifth of an acre of the park. The cut opened a view of Cook Inlet from Dick's property.

Dick on Friday declined to comment on the suit.

Dick last year said he thought he was stripping trees from his own land, mostly beetle-killed spruce.

The city has not released a damage estimate. The $50,000 cited in the lawsuit is the minimum for actual damages.

We're saying it could easily be more,'' said city attorney Bill Greene.

The city also wants punitive damages up to three times the costs, Greene said. The suit says that is to deter Dick and other people from such behavior.

The city's lawsuit asserts that Dick's action was outrageous and that he either stripped the trees maliciously or was recklessly indifferent.

The lawsuit asks that any vehicles Dick used to strip trees from the park be impounded or forfeited. The city also has asked the court to prohibit Dick from moving any dirt or destroying any more trees or shrubs on his own land until he's given the city 30 days' notice and a chance to inspect.

I'm glad the city is moving on this,'' said Susanne Comellas, an area resident who said she was stunned by the park damage.

I'm sure people in the area will be delighted, and hopefully the park will be repaired,'' she said. I just wish people would have some sense and take some responsibility.''

The city considered criminal charges but they would have been only misdemeanors. The civil case carries bigger penalties, Greene said.

City prosecutors did refer the case to the state for possible felony criminal charges under state law, but the state would not prosecute.

Dick began clearing his own land and part of the park in 1999, the lawsuit says, but his actions came to light last summer when a resident reported the damage to the city parks department.

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