Ash borer fight may trip over disposal issue
Friday, April 13, 2007
by Dave Wischnowsky
It's just a little bug, but in the Chicago area the pesky emerald ash borer continues to display a knack for producing big problems.
The latest pickle posed by the ravenous Asian beetle threatening Illinois' 130 million ash trees is turning the springtime rite of tree-trimming into a tricky issue -- one that could cause unwanted twigs, branches and even grass clippings to pile up next month on lawns in northern Cook County and in Kane County.
"We're in a bind," said Janet Spector-Bishop, a spokeswoman for Glenview, which is in a Cook County quarantine zone that prohibits the transport of ash wood past its borders. "Our citizens have hardwood they need to get rid of, and we need to come up with some kind of solution for them to do it."
Last fall, all of Kane County and a swath of northern Cook County were quarantined by the state after the ash borer was confirmed in those areas. The quarantine zones are intended to stymie the spread of the metallic-green pest, which has killed 20 million ash trees in five states and Canada since 2002. But the quarantines are thwarting the work of brush collection companies as well.
Inside Cook County's zone, from Touhy Avenue to Lake-Cook Road and from Interstate Highway 294 to Lake Michigan, there are no disposal sites capable of chipping wood small enough to kill the half-inch long ash borer and its eggs, and none of the towns owns such equipment. Meanwhile, disposal companies in Kane County have a different problem: Large cities such as Aurora and Elgin cross over into other counties not under quarantine.
With the clock ticking down to May 1, when the ash borer's flight season begins, officials from the suburbs to Springfield are scrambling for a solution.
Last week, Glenview announced in its village newsletter that Groot Waste and Recycling Services will cease residential collection of twigs, branches and logs -- ash or otherwise -- between April 30 and Sept. 1 because it does not have the capacity to identify ash tree material and separate it from other wood.
Groot still will collect grass clippings, according to Spector-Bishop. However, Veolia Environmental Services, which handles brush disposal for other communities inside Cook County's quarantine zone, has said it might stop after April 30.
"They're trying to get some questions answered by the [Illinois] Department of Agriculture," said Donna Jakubowski, Wilmette's public works director. "They can't be sure that people won't also put small twigs inside their bags of grass clippings."
In Kane County, environmental management director Tim Harbaugh said he has received calls from waste company officials concerned about losing business this summer or subjecting themselves to fines by hauling grass clippings or leaves across quarantine borders.
"If there's any wood also inside those bags then, theoretically, the companies would be breaking the law," said Harbaugh, who added that logistics could cause headaches for waste-disposal firms.
"In Elgin and Aurora, you have subdivisions where one home is in Kane County and the next one is in Cook or Kendall," he said. "And now there's this undrawn line that can't be crossed by the waste haulers."
Kane County woes
There isn't a clear-cut solution to the problems in Kane County unless the quarantine zone is expanded into bordering counties. In Cook County, officials hope that the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County can come to the rescue.
Mark Cinnamon of the Department of Agriculture said officials have spent recent weeks scouring northern Cook County for potential wood waste disposal sites within the quarantine area's borders but were unable to find one.
Some locations were too close to residential areas for the noise of the heavy-duty grinders used for wood processing, Cinnamon said. Others didn't have access for trucks. And a vacant area in Evanston that seemed large enough turned out to be slated for development.
State officials have settled on trying to work out an arrangement with SWANCC, which has a transfer station in Glenview -- albeit on the side of town that's outside the quarantine's borders.
Cinnamon said state and local officials met with the solid waste agency's board until 11:45 p.m. Wednesday attempting to hammer out a deal that would allow communities in Cook County's quarantine zone to haul wood waste to the Glenview station.
They're still hammering, however, as it's unclear how the arrangement would be financed. SWANCC would need to lease equipment capable of chipping wood fine enough to kill the ash borer and its eggs, said Assistant Executive Director Steve Schilling, and other costs also could be incurred by the agency. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also would have to sign off on the deal to allow wood waste to be hauled outside the quarantine zone.
Wilmette, Winnetka and Evanston are the only communities in Cook County that have confirmed the ash borer in their towns, yet residents in many other communities are being affected. Cinnamon said that's a reality for all of Illinois, though, as it's almost certain the bug will pop up in other areas soon.
"The fact is, everyone is going to face this issue," Cinnamon said. "Realistically, we believe the emerald ash borer has been in Illinois for five to seven years and has been hauled in landscape waste all over northern Illinois during that time.
"And once the ash borer is found in more areas and more counties are quarantined, it's going to become a larger issue."