The trees that were the pride of Golden Valley's Hidden Lakes neighborhood still stand. But the pines have turned a rusty brown, and some shrubs are dead.
Hidden Lakes' roughly 400 dead and damaged plants are the legacy of Imprelis, a ballyhooed weed killer that was promoted as environmentally safe, long-lasting and effective.
Landscape firms sprayed it on thousands of Minnesota properties last spring with disastrous results for white spruce, white pine and Norway spruce trees. Other trees and shrubs also were damaged. Most of the dead trees are left standing as Imprelis manufacturer DuPont settles financial claims.
"They have to stay there as evidence," said David Berry, a member of Hidden Lakes Condominiums' master board. "It really is ugly. ... People are especially upset about what looks like totally dead sticks."
Landscape firms such as Arteka, which used Imprelis on the Hidden Lakes property, are waiting to remove and perhaps replace plantings. Dozens of other properties -- including golf courses, housing developments and individual homeowners -- are in limbo, waiting for DuPont to award damages so dead vegetation can be removed.
It's been frustrating to see dead trees still standing, said Stewart Hanson, president of Arteka, a Shakopee-based company. Only trees that have been deemed a hazard can be removed until property owners accept a payment from DuPont.
"For God's sake, it's been over a year," Hanson said. "We feel empathy for our clients that are sitting there looking at these things. And it's frustrating for a company that is used to getting things done."
DuPont spokeswoman Kate Childress said each claim must be reviewed and verified. "That takes time," she said.
Nationwide, current claims total $225 million and could reach $575 million, she said, adding that the final amount "is very uncertain."
'Waiting and waiting'
Last month, Three Rivers Park District accepted a settlement of almost $382,000 for damage to trees on Baker National Golf Course in Medina.
Steve Hoogenakker, whose Maple Grove firm Natural Green used Imprelis last year at private homes as well as townhouse and commercial developments, said that as of last week about 20 of the roughly 80 claims he helped document for clients had received settlement offers from DuPont.
"We had just been waiting and waiting and calling and finally I talked to someone who said if you e-mail them you get moved up in the queue," he said. "Ninety-eight percent of our customers have been wonderful. Every time DuPont sent something to us, we sent it on to them. That kept their temperatures down."
Imprelis, which was recalled in August, was used only by licensed applicators and was never available to the general public.
A year ago, an informal survey of licensed firms in Minnesota by the state Department of Agriculture showed that 26 companies had used Imprelis on almost 6,200 properties. Almost 900 of those properties had shown damage to plants that should have been unaffected by the herbicide.
"It was really unprecedented," said Gregg Regimbal, the department's pesticide management supervisor. "We've never seen anything like it."
Some property owners are reporting new damage this year where Imprelis was applied. But Diona Neeser, office manager for Rainbow Lawn Care, said that after drought and a dry winter it's difficult to link every tree problem to Imprelis. She said some of this year's problems appear to be related to drought stress and late-spring freezes.
Kathy Zuzek, University of Minnesota Extension horticulturist, said most of the deciduous trees that showed damage last year seem to have recovered. But conifers that were affected last year are continuing to decline. While white spruce, white pine and Norway spruce were most sensitive to Imprelis damage, she said, Colorado blue spruce, Austrian pine and arborvitae also have been affected.
Studies in Indiana show that Imprelis is degrading in the soil but is still present, Zuzek said. DuPont has recommended that the soil be replaced when dead trees are removed. Zuzek said property owners would be wise not to plant the same type of trees in those spots, and she suggests waiting until early fall or even next spring to replant.
"I would be very cautious, because we just don't know, and who wants to spend the money?" she said.
Berry said the Hidden Lakes association did not join one of the many suits against DuPont, hoping for a quick financial settlement and restoration of the complex's park-like setting.
But money won't replace what's been lost, Zuzek said.
"You can't get the time back that it takes to grow a specimen tree that's 40 or 50 or 60 years old," she said. "That's the tragedy of this."
Many landscape firms have spent countless hours helping document Imprelis damage, counseling clients by phone and trying to hurry things along with DuPont. They'll probably get a payment from the company, but it won't cover their time.
Hanson said Arteka's customers have stuck with the firm. But he said he will look skeptically at the next miracle herbicide that comes along.
"If this had been all the things it was touted to be, it would have been wonderful," he said. "We're going to be reluctant [to pioneer the next product]. And that's a shame."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan