Removal of Federal Building trees elicits fierce opposition

The proposal to remove two trees from the front of the historic Federal Building in downtown Anchorage elicited fiery comments from a handful of community members during a public meeting on Thursday.

The General Services Administration, which oversees the building, planned to cut down the spruce trees this summer. GSA spokesperson Stephanie Kenitzer says the trees were damaging the building and they needed to repaint the exterior.

“As a homeowner I’ve been told multiple times to not have a tree touching the side of my house. It’s difficult on the siding, it’s hard on the paint. It’s the same kind of philosophy,” she explained.

The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.
The Federal Building in downtown Anchorage this summer.

But they were stopped from cutting them down by public outcry from community members like arborist Nickel LaFleur.

“Because it’s history. Because our trees are legacies,” she said. “We don’t have that many trees here in Anchorage, and these trees are quite historic.”

Photos show they were planted next to the building at least 56 years ago. Some time around then, a bristlecone pine joined the line up. It’s anecdotally thought to be a gift from Anchorage’s sister city in Japan, though documentation is scarce. GSA never planned to cut down the bristlecone pine.

After the public complained, the agency decided to just trim the trees and repaint — for now. Kenitzer said it’s not a long-term solution.

“The trees will grow again. That’s what trees do. Sunshine, water, they’ll grow again. And we may be addressing this problem again down the road. So it’s really in the best interest of the long term preservation of the building.”

She said an arborist’s report on the situation also claimed that the trees’ roots will hurt the foundation of the building, so they should be removed completely.

LaFleur doesn’t buy the argument, especially since the trees are separated from the building itself by a wide window well.

“The root ball will never hurt the building,” she explained. “If the building is leaking, then roots have a way of heading toward water. But you can’t blame the trees for the problems. Just fix the leaks in the buildings and leave the trees.”

The arborist who completed the initial report on the trees asked GSA to keep his name confidential for fear of damage to his business. Some of the community members have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see the report and other information about the plan to remove the trees.

GSA will make a final decision in 30 days.