Ash tree removal could cost city thousands

     As the emerald ash borer continues its steady march through Northeast Indiana, it could cost Columbia City thousands of dollars to remove its ash trees as they die and become hazards.
     Whether it’s the cost of labor for the removal of the trees or overtime in cleanup when they fall during storms, the tab will not be small.
     “In one way or the other, the city’s going to pay for them,” said Eddie Beagles, president of the Columbia City Tree Board.
     By city estimates, there are about 200 ash trees in city easements and another 70 in the parks.
     Should the city hire a tree removal service, the cost could be as much as $155,000.
     If the city’s electric department cuts them down, it would cost about $30,000 less, but it’s still a big bill to be paid from a government entity that like so many others does not have a budget increase planned for the next year.
     When the EAB infests a tree, it can take from one to three years to kill it from the ground to the top.
     The city would like to do the removal in phases and not wait three years when many of the ash trees are dead and pay one large bill.
     “We can’t afford to wait three to four years and cut down 200 trees,” Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck said.
     The estimated $121,600 for the city’s electric department to remove the trees does not include the 70 or so trees in the parks.
     Fleck said the parks department will start removal of its ash trees in the next week or so as time allows.
     Jodie Ellis, exotic insects education coordinator at Purdue University, said those who study EAB recommend cities and towns begin removal of ash trees as they can, whether or not the trees are infested.
     “This is a good opportunity to spread out of the cost by removing the bad trees now,” she said.
     By removing dying or dead ash trees now, the municipalities can target other ash trees later as they begin to show symptoms of EAB.
     “The name of the game now is to spread these costs out,” Ellis said.
     There are not any state grants to help offset the cost of ash tree removal, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources does offer a grant to help pay for trees planted after ash trees are removed.
     The city’s cost estimates and number of ash trees only reflect trees on its property.
     Those on private property will be the responsibility of the property owner.
     Based on how many trees are on city property, the tree board estimates there are as many as 2,000 ash trees on private property.
     “The city can’t afford to do that,” Beagles said of the removal of ash trees on private property.