SISTERS, Ore. - (Update: Adding ODOT, FS comments)
Monday marked the beginning of a three-week project to remove more than 2,100 trees along U.S. Highway 20 west of Sisters.
The project is a result of the Oregon Department of Transportation spraying weed-killing herbicide a few years ago near the road. The herbicide ended up either killing or compromising thousands of trees.
Both ODOT and the U.S. Forest Service said the dead trees became a safety hazard, and they wanted to remove them as soon as possible. They feared the trees would fall onto the highway and possibly hit a vehicle.
"We're doing our best in all phases to keep everybody safe," said Gary Farnsworth, ODOT Region 4 manager. "Whether it's taking care of the roadside, or in situations like this where we do have to remove the dead trees, we work very closely together to make sure we're serving the public well and keeping everyone safe."
Crews under contract with the U.S. Forest Service will be working Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. until May 24.
ODOT said to expect driving delays during that time along a 12.5-mile stretch of the highway between Sisters and Camp Sherman.
"So they'll be off and on, intermittent," Farnsworth said. "Could be five minutes, could be longer. It depends. It really depends on the safety and the operation and how close the workers need to be to the highway."
If the crews are working right next to the road, Farnsworth said delays could last up to 20 minutes.
Jean Nelson-Dean, the public affairs officer for the Deschutes National Forest, said
the trees will be cut down, then decked in staging areas off the highway. Once all the trees are removed, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will determine what the wood can be safely used for.
"We have to wait, because then there's issues really seeing what the impact of that herbicide is on those trees," Nelson-Dean said. "There's lots of different
decisions, and that's certainly within the role of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. We're just awaiting their guidance. Once we have that, we'll figure out the next steps of what to do with these trees."
Nelson-Dean said the DEQ likely will issue its decision within a month. She said the goal is to sell the wood to a mill to be used for commercial product. She said it’s unlikely the wood will be available for the general public to purchase.
Nelson-Dean also said there is no plan in place at this time to replant any of the trees. She said the forest is overstocked in that area, which means they have more trees than needed.