Miles Gregoire is going to miss the big, leafy trees that line his block in St. Paul's Como Park neighborhood.

Most of them are ash. Instead of prolonging their inevitable demise to the destructive emerald ash borer, he and his neighbors are going along with a city plan to remove 40 trees on two blocks and plant new ones.

No ash borer bugs have been found on his block of W. California Avenue yet, but the ash trees aren't as healthy as they used to be.

"It's hard, but I've seen the trees decline," Gregoire said.

He was joined by about 20 neighbors Tuesday night at a meeting to discuss the plan with city officials. They heard bleak predictions that the pest could invade their area within a few years and kill hundreds of trees. After listening to facts and asking questions, the neighbors overwhelmingly voted to allow their trees to be razed in favor of new ones that aren't susceptible to the ash borer.

Work will start next week.

St. Paul is the epicenter of Minnesota's emerald ash borer infestation and, based on information from other states, getting rid of the pest is not an option. So city officials are trying to slow its spread as best they can.

As part of an experiment for its plan to deal with the bugs, the city wants to remove the ash trees and stumps on two blocks of California, between Oxford and Milton streets. Soon after that, two new species of trees -- Redmond Linden and Sienna Glen Maple -- would be planted in an alternating pattern.

Officials want to see how smoothly the work goes, and they figure crews can remove all the trees in a day.

The area was picked because it has a lot of "declining" ash trees, said Cy Kosel, natural resources manager for the Parks and Recreation Department. Several trees have already been removed.

The new trees will be about 2 inches in diameter, and it will probably take about 10 years for them to provide good shade, Kosel said. "That's the bummer. It takes time to grow a tree," he said.

The small pest is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

St. Paul officials estimate it will cost about $775 to remove and replace each ash tree. They figure it will cost a few million dollars each year to deal with the beetle from here on out.

The city has 120,000 public ash trees, about 60,000 of which are easily accessible. Plans call for the removal of about 3,000 of them yearly.

The emerald ash borer was discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002 -- possibly a decade after its arrival in the United States from China -- and it 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.

So far, St. Paul is the only city where the pest has been found, but surrounding areas are on alert. The infestation was discovered last May in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Nearly 80 infested trees have been removed so far.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148