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Monday, January 7, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jean Godden / Times staff columnist

Reprieve sought for shady deal

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Uncle Sam, spare those trees. That's the plea from the tree-hugging folks at City Hall.

The endangered trees are four mature sweet gums that shade the north side of Stewart Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. The trees border a site where a new U.S. Courthouse will soon be built.

Some weeks ago, Shane DeWald, a senior landscape architect for SeaTran, and Bill Eames, also of the transportation department, posted bright-green signs on the trees. The posters identify the trees by size — 18.6 to 26.3 inches in diameter — and value, from $10,000 to $22,000 each.

DeWald says that while the federal government could pay up to $60,000 to remove the trees, the city would rather keep them. She says, "My office sent out a courtesy notice to the GSA (General Services Administration) Nov. 28. So far, we haven't had any response."

Let's hope Uncle Sam isn't in the mood to clear-cut the Stewart Street forest.

Politics and sports: U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has a new escort. The mystery man, by all accounts, is Charley Steiner, an ESPN anchor who does play-by-play commentary for college football and Major League Baseball.

Steiner is a graduate of Bradley University (Peoria, Ill.), which has established a sportswriting scholarship in his name. The award-winning broadcaster is 52.

Asked Friday about the new man in the senator's life, Cantwell staffers declined comment. The staff dodge: "She's in a meeting and can't be reached."

No gas, no pasta: Just before New Year's Eve, on one of the biggest dining-out nights of the year, the pasta stopped boiling and the scallops and foie gras ceased searing at Cafe Juanita in Kirkland.

The problem: no gas.

Chef/owner Holly Smith and her crew tried to fix the problem. But, alas, no luck. Smith went to the dining room to apologize and offer gift certificates to disappointed diners.

Then she called home to commiserate. But instead of comforting words, her husband, Mike, tore down to the restaurant and discovered a dislodged valve. That put the evening's meals — all but one — back on track.

O'Briens are coming: Details keep leaking about the impending nuptials of TV host Conan O'Brien and his Seattle-based fiancée, Liza Powel. Word is their wedding vows will be exchanged Saturday at St. James Cathedral on First Hill.

The Rev. Paul O'Brien will marry the couple. A relative? No. The priest is Conan's one-time Harvard housemate.

Sources at the Boston Herald, which is following the story closely, say Father O'Brien will travel here from his parish in Lawrence, Mass. The priest reportedly "sounds just like Conan O'Brien."

Bragging rights: Vanity plate spotted on a Toyota Prius, a gas/electric hybrid, doesn't make much sense unless you read the license-plate holder. The top line: "My car uses." The bottom: "than yours." The plate reads: 4XLSGAS.

Jean Godden appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Phone 206-464-8300. E-mail: jgodden @seattletimes.com. More columns: www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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