St. Paul will likely spend more money fighting emerald ash borer in 2019 than ever before, but it still won’t be enough to keep pace with the fast-spreading infestation.
Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2019 budget includes about $2.5 million in one-time funding for removing, treating and replacing infested ash trees on boulevards and in city parks and golf courses, compared to about $1 million in 2018. Parks officials say they need nearly $4.8 million next year if they’re going to keep up with their timeline to eradicate emerald ash borer in the city by 2024.
The Parks Department’s request, outlined in a budget document that every city department submits annually, plans for removing 5,456 infested ash trees in 2019. With the allocation that Carter has proposed, the department would be able to remove 2,153 trees, according to the document.
Officials from the Parks Department, the City Council and the mayor’s office say the state should help pay to fight the infestation.
“Managing the emerald ash borer infestation has been a huge challenge for St. Paul since 2009, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a statewide environmental catastrophe,” Liz Xiong, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said in a statement. “We are hopeful the state takes a role in helping St. Paul and other cities manage this crisis.”
The emerald ash borer infestation was first discovered in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood in 2009, and by 2016 had spread across the city. The Parks Department has fallen behind on cutting down ash trees, grinding up their stumps and planting new trees. Without more funding, the backlog of infested trees will likely continue to grow.
Minneapolis, which is dealing with its own emerald ash borer infestation, levies a property tax to pay for removing and replanting trees. St. Paul does not, and so must seek out new funding sources every year.
In 2018, the St. Paul Parks Department supplemented the city’s emerald ash borer allocation with a one-time, nearly $1.5 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Under Carter’s proposal, the amount of money the parks department has to fight emerald ash borer in 2019 would be the same as in 2018, but the city would foot a larger portion of the bill.
In a presentation to the City Council budget committee Wednesday, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm said the department is still aiming to eradicate emerald ash borer in the city by 2024. Hahm will give a more detailed presentation about the emerald ash borer budget at a Sept. 26 meeting.
Money for cutting down, treating and replacing ash trees, like the rest of the 2019 budget, won’t be finalized until December. The Parks Department has an array of other needs — on Wednesday, Hahm outlined more than $900,000 in proposed general fund spending, including reopening Highwood Hills Recreation Center and providing transportation for youth programs.
When it comes to emerald ash borer, the Parks dDpartment is already planning to look for money elsewhere, including from the state, said department spokeswoman Clare Cloyd.
“It’s definitely on our radar to seek other sources,” she said.
Council Member Chris Tolbert, who chaired the budget committee meeting, said he wants to make sure that funding for mitigating the emerald ash borer infestation is part of the city’s legislative agenda next session.
Like many St. Paul residents, Tolbert lives on a street that has lost its ash trees. Planting new trees is as essential as removing the infested ones, he said.
“It’s not something that any of us want to do,” Tolbert said, “but it is something that has come to St. Paul.”