St. Paul drafts long-term plan to battle threat to its ash trees

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2009 - 8:19 AM

Fighting the emerald ash borer, found in the city last month, could cost millions of dollars per year.

A little emerald pest could cost St. Paul a lot of green.

The city would need to add about $1.1 million to its current budget and $3 million to its yearly budget starting in 2010 to deal with the emerald ash borer, according to a report by the Parks and Recreation Department's forestry division.

"It's a long-term issue," Mike Hahm, Parks and Recreation director, told City Council members on Wednesday. To deal with the insect, his staff has worked on a plan that involves inspecting, removing and replacing ash trees. About 120,000 of the city's 450,000 trees are ash.

Hahm acknowledged the high cost to battle the beetle, but doing nothing is not a good option, he said. The department would seek money from the state and other sources to offset the cost to taxpayers.

Council members listened to the highlights of the plan but took no action on it Wednesday.

Among the plan's suggestions:

• Update the city's diseased tree ordinance so that city workers would have the authority to go onto private property for inspection, order the removal of diseased trees and take them down if owners don't comply with the order. A proposed ordinance should make its first appearance before the council next week.

• Develop a policy on chemical pesticide treatment of trees. Permits would be required of residents who would want to treat public boulevard trees, and the city would contract out for the treatment of about 500 public trees each year. Estimated yearly cost: $75,000.

• Hire, starting in July, four inspectors to monitor the city's ash trees. Estimated yearly cost: $200,000.

• Remove about 3,000 ash trees a year, which will require two additional forestry crews and equipment. Estimated yearly cost: $1.9 million.

• Replace the 3,000 lost trees each year, which will require another worker and additional equipment. Estimated yearly cost: $585,000.

The emerald ash borer was discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002 -- possibly a decade after its arrival in the United States from China -- and has destroyed tens of millions of trees in the Midwest. The tree was the preferred replacement for elms after they were ravaged by a beetle-borne fungus a generation ago.

The insect was first confirmed in St. Paul on May 14 in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Nearly 70 ash trees, half public and half private, have been removed in an effort to stop the spread of the beetle.

An analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the pest could have been in the city since four years ago and is likely in areas beyond St. Anthony Park.

"It is likely in St. Paul permanently," according to the Parks and Recreation Department plan.

In other action Wednesday, council members voted 4-1 to reject a settlement with a Public Works employee that would have paid him $50,000 and given him a promotion.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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