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Frank Gray

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City urges patience as tree removal starts again

A reader called the other day complaining that his neighborhood, off Winchester Road, was teeming with dead ash trees, but nary a soul had been by to remove any of the trees, killed off by the emerald ash borer.

What’s going on? the man asked.

I mused that now that he’s mentioned it, I haven’t seen any crews in my neighborhood since last fall, cutting down big, dead ash trees, whose bark was beginning to separate from the trunks.

I talked to Chad Tinkel, the city arborist, the man in charge of worrying about the nearly 13,000 dead or dying ash trees all around the city.

He assured me that the tree removal program, after a false start last year, is underway, and they’ll be in your neighborhood soon.

The tree removal program did stall last year after a company that submitted a surprisingly low bid to remove thousands of trees defaulted on the contract.

That delayed the program for several weeks as Tinkel had to go back to the city council and have a new contract with a new company approved.

For now, tree removal is operating in stages. Workers started in the northeast quadrant of the city, and they were given a quota of trees that had to be removed each week.

Crews moved from the northeast to the southeast quadrant, and will progress to the southwest section and then to the northwest by September.

Once they’re done, the city will approve a new contract and the whole cycle will start again.

Some people are upset about the progress of tree removal, Tinkel said.

“I get a remarkable amount of complaint calls,” Tinkel said. He said crews will come in, cut down a quarter of the dead or dying ash trees in a neighborhood, focusing on the ones that appear to present the greatest hazard, and then move on.

“It angers some people,” including the man who had called me.

The good news is that even completely dead ash trees don’t present that great a hazard.

“They rarely completely fall,” Tinkel said. Even in the severe storm of June 29, 2012, which knocked down trees all over town and knocked out power for a week or more in the city, few ash trees went down.

The bad news is that it will be a year and a half before the ash tree removal is complete, and that assumes there won’t be any more severe weather that knocks down other trees, forcing crews to change their focus.

When you consider the huge number of trees that have to be removed, it’s easy to understand why some people are still waiting for their trees to be cut down. By the time they are done, workers will have removed 13,000 of the city’s almost 14,000 ash trees.

As far as replacing those trees, that will undoubtedly take time. A program in which residents can contribute $50 to speed a replacement tree of their choice has gotten relatively few takers.

But a local lumber company has made out, turning 50 semi loads of the ash trees into lumber, so there’s a bright side to everything.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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