City to begin cutting down ash trees soon

Columbia City will be cutting down more than 200 ash trees around the city, hopefully beginning in the next few months.The city’s Board of Works and Safety discussed the tree issue at its regular weekly meeting Friday.According to Mayor Jim Fleck’s office, the project is being undertaken to combat and avoid the consequences of the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle that compromises the integrity of the tree and creates potential danger of collapse.“One of those trees coming through the roof would far exceed what it would cost to remove the tree in the first place,” Fleck said.The mayor himself recently had several of the trees taken down on his own property.The plan is to remove about 50 trees per year over the next four or five years.Before the removal begins, an arborist, or tree expert will be brought in to assess the trees and give suggestions as to which should be removed first.In one subdivision alone, Grove Park, ash trees make up the bulk of the trees in the neighborhood, including one private property that has approximately 16-18 such trees.The city will be removing only those ash trees that exist in the town’s right of way. Fleck said today that only 10 percent of the city’s trees are on city property.He added that tree removal would be countered with the planting of new trees.“We replace or plant about 30-50 trees each year,” he said. “And that’s not including in the parks. That’s done to renew and to diversify.”In other business, Electric Superintendent Larry Whetstone told the board his department should be able to make the Dec. 31 deadline for installing new street lights in the city.The new lights, more than 700 in all, were made available to the city courtesy of a $250,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Energy by way of the state’s Office of Energy Development.Whetstone said there are 112 lights alone in the downtown area, 84 of which have all been installed.The grant was given to the city and the Dec. 31 deadline was a condition of the grant.