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Honeyman tree clearing under fire.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - A zealous advocate of Oregon's natural resources, Jessie M. Honeyman saw to it that thousands of acres along the Oregon Coast were spared from development and turned into state parks after she moved here in the late 19th century.

But the park renamed for the philanthropist in 1941 is now under fire for its own handling of natural resources, in the shape of a half-mile-long scar of ripped-out trees and brush.

A local excavator cleared the swath after a state parks engineer cut an improper deal that allowed the contractor to keep all the trees harvested as payment for the job - a value of more than $50,000, parks officials say. The path straddles Highway 101 and is part of a project to build a pedestrian bridge over the busy road to connect both sections of Honeyman State Park.

The engineer is now on administrative leave, and the state Parks and Recreation Department is investigating his conduct. Parks officials refused to release his name.

The investigation also will make sure excavator Ray Wells didn't harvest more timber than he needed, but parks officials said they have no reason to believe he's at fault. The trail is as wide as 100 feet in places - to accommodate a concrete path that will be no wider than 10 feet.

Wells declined comment Friday. "You'll have to talk to parks about that," he said.

Environmentalists are bemoaning the loss of dozens of mature Douglas fir, hemlock, spruce and rhododendron trees from the 522-acre park.

"It's a terrible mistake," said Fran Recht, conservation director of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition. "They cut out a lot more old trees than needed."

The engineer, who also served as project manager on the job, agreed to pay the excavator $1,000 plus the timber to do the work.

State law requires projects between $5,000 and $75,000 to be put out for bid. An agency must get quotes from three contractors to ensure that the process is fair.

The engineer apparently thought he didn't need to go to bid because the out-of-pocket payment was less than $5,000, but he was mistaken, said Wayne Rawlins, grants and procurement manager for the parks department.

"The true cost to the state was over $1,000," Rawlins said. "I don't think it was ill-spirited. He may have totally misunderstood the rules."

Trees on state land are state-owned assets, Rawlins said. Thus, the cost of the project must include the trees, and their value should have been assessed before any work began. If the trees exceed what the job should have cost, then the contractor must refund the extra revenue to the state, he said.

"We found out the value as they were taken to the mill" - $53,000, Rawlins said. "Open and fair competition did not take place. The harm is undercutting the process. We've just got to prove this is an anomaly."

In the meantime, completion of the trail may be delayed until next year.

The path was designed as a safety feature to keep campers from having to run "like chickens across the road" to go from one side of the park to the other, said Jeff Farm, who oversees parks in Central and Western Oregon.

Managers had secured a $577,00 scenic byways grant from the federal government in 2002 and $151,000 in state lottery funds for the project. They also intended to allow bicycles and maintenance vehicles to use the trail and bridge, Farm said.

Mike Bones, president of the Florence chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, said hundreds of rhody bushes were cleared for the trail.

"They went in and wiped them out. They went too wide," he said.

Farm and Rawlins said the excavator only uprooted trees marked by the engineer.

Park manager Dennis Davidson conceded that some of the trail is too wide, but he noted that the pathway is designed with 2-foot gutters and shoulders on each side. He also said it was important to make sure that the root systems of some trees didn't interfere with the trail and that a switchback was needed in one particularly steep section to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"On the west side, I'm totally comfortable with it," Davidson said. "On the east side, it's yet to be seen whether or not it's excessive. I don't believe it was, but I'm not an engineer. I can understand that people would look at that and say, `Oh my, that's wide for an 8 foot trail.' '

CAPTION(S):

Dennis Davidson, Honeyman State Park manager, says too many trees may have been cleared along some portions of a trail under development, but he doesn't believe other portions are out of line. Some cleared areas are as wide as 100 feet to accommodate the 10-foot trail. Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard Bold text and this is light text and this is more light text
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Title Annotation:Recreation; State parks officials are investigating the details of a trail project deal
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 29, 2004
Words:824
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