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Ash borer fight is costly
Towns budgeting millions to replace their infested trees

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Charles Sheehan

Chicago-area officials say the invasion of the emerald ash borer is threatening to chew up suburban forestry budgets, as well as trees.

Communities could spend millions of dollars over several years to cut down and replace ash trees, local officials said Tuesday as they met with Illinois legislators and an expert from the state Department of Agriculture.
Estimates range from $1.3 million in Park Ridge to $2.5 million in Wilmette and $2.7 million in Mt. Prospect.

"The upfront cost to deal with this problem is enormous, and there will be some municipalities that are not going to be able to handle it," said state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston).

Schoenberg said he plans to introduce legislation in Springfield within a week that would set up a revolving loan fund to help municipalities pay for what has become a major issue.

Schoenberg's proposal would be modeled after a fund that since the late 1980s has provided low-interest loans to communities to repair or replace aging sewers.

Communities facing an imminent threat from the ash borer would be able to borrow from the fund. As loans are repaid, funds would become available to help other towns.

The annual tree-trimming budget in Park Ridge is about $350,000, said Sarah Tien, city forester. That is much lower than the estimated $1.3 million it would cost to clear and replace all the trees during an infestation.

"I think that would compromise our budget," Tien said.

The ash borer has not been found in Park Ridge, but the city estimates about 2,200 of its 19,865 parkway trees--or 11 percent--are ashes.

Tuesday's meeting in Des Plaines was hosted by the Northwest Municipal Conference to help prepare officials for when ash borers take flight in search of new trees, which could begin as soon as May 1.

The ash borer, a native of Asia, already is blamed for the loss of about 20 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and parts of Canada. The pest was found in June in Kane County just east of Lily Lake.

Within a month the Department of Agriculture imposed a quarantine on 51 square miles around Lily Lake.

The quarantine, which was expanded this month to all of Kane County, prohibits residents from taking the ash borer out of the county as well as ash trees of any size, ash limbs and branches, firewood and bark or wood chips from ash trees.

After the ash borer was found on the North Shore, the state imposed a quarantine in a 64-square-mile area between the Lake County line and roughly the Chicago city limits and from Lake Michigan to the Tri-State Tollway.

Local officials say they have struggled to comply with the quarantine.

The quarantine boundary runs along Touhy Avenue in Park Ridge. Residents on the north side of Touhy must separate ash leaves and branches from other yard clippings, but those on the south side can heap all limbs, grass and twigs in a single pile, Tien said.

Evanston residents faced a similar issue last fall when a storm swept through the suburb.

Because of a ban on removing ash trees from the quarantine area, crews could not pick up branches that residents had left on parkways.

The Department of Agriculture updated its Web site last weekend in hopes of better answering questions about the quarantines and to prepare towns for the ash borer.

"We have added a lot of information about what communities need to be thinking about, like taking an inventory of all ash trees so you know how many and where they are," said Warren Goetsch, bureau chief of environmental programs for the department. "It is very important to start evaluating the health of these trees if that is not being done."

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