Homeowners in Boulder's Willow Ridge Townhouse Association awoke Tuesday morning to the buzz of a city contractor's chainsaw felling giant, mature trees that line the property.
The problem is the contractor wasn't supposed to cut them down.
Boulder officials acknowledged Wednesday that at least eight trees were improperly removed from the city-owned open space between the Foothills Parkway and Harrison Court in east Boulder, leaving nearby residents shocked and angry about the screw-up.
"I'm not sure how it happened, but obviously there was a miscommunication," said Jody Jacobson, a city spokeswoman. "We definitely regret the mistake -- and it was a mistake."
Jacobson said the city is responsible for maintaining a flood levee that was constructed on the east side of Foothills Parkway a few years ago to keep the adjacent neighborhoods out of the 100-year floodplain.
As part of its annual maintenance, the city hired Bowman Custom Landscaping -- a Mead-based contractor who has been hired by the city several times over the years -- to mow the smaller vegetation and clean up debris within 15 feet of the levee's edge.
"We knew that some very small trees, 2 inches in diameter or less, would be cut," Jacobson said. "They weren't supposed to cut anything larger than that."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests that no trees be allowed to grow within 15 feet of a levee, but the city has made an exception for most of the Foothills Parkway trees that don't pose a direct threat to the protective barrier because they are important to neighbors.
Jacobson speculated that because all of the trees that were cut down were within 15 feet of the levee, the workers assumed they had to go. There was a city crew at the scene Tuesday, she said, but no supervisors were there to catch the error.
Rod Bowman, owner of the landscaping company, did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. Jacobson, however, said he is a "trusted contractor" whose employees made a mistake.
Five trees along the levee had already been marked by the city for removal because their roots were compromising the water barrier, Jacobson said. But the crew sent to conduct maintenance on Tuesday was not tasked with removing those trees, either.
In total, one of the marked trees and seven large, unmarked trees were cut down.
Jacobson said the four remaining trees marked for removal still will be torn down, but residents will be given 24 hours' notice and city staffers will work with the contractor to ensure that only the correct trees are taken.
The city will likely plant new trees in the area to make up for the mistake, she said.
When nearby residents saw what was happening Tuesday morning, two of them called the city and confronted the contractors until the work stopped.
"They cut down about eight (trees) before myself and a neighbor went out screaming," said Melinda Roark, who for 22 years has enjoyed the open space across from her townhouse. "They cut down our wonderful trees."
Roark said the green foliage is the only thing blocking the nearby highway traffic from her backyard.
"We have to suffer the noise and the pollution, but at least it's a total visual barrier," she said.
She said she and her neighbors now worry that the damaged buffer will hurt their property values.
Berta Post, who also lives across from the open space, said the site of the fallen trees -- still lying on the ground next to the levee on Wednesday afternoon -- "makes me so sick."
"You just feel heartsick, wherever it happens," she said.
The eight trees will be turned into mulch for use in city projects.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.