Ash borer tree removal to take 10 years; Joliet ponders tree replacement plan

Karen Sorensen | 5/21/2014, 9:26 p.m.
City Manager Jim Hock told the city council there are two options to buy replacement trees for the 8,000 to ...
Example of the damage an emerald ash borer did to an ash tree located near Taylor Street and Midland Avenue in Joliet. Karen Sorensen

It could take as long as 10 years for the city of Joliet to remove the 8,000 to 10,000 trees infected by the emerald ash borer, and only enough money budgeted this year to replace about 500 of them, city arborist Jim Teiber told the Joliet City Council.

But the city may have a plan to replace them more quickly, either by arranging for a crop of young trees to be grown at a local nursery and purchased for incremental planting over several years or by borrowing $1 million to $2 million at zero percent interest to purchase and plant new trees more quickly.

Teiber briefed the council Tuesday on how they’re coping with the rampant emerald ash borer problem while trying to find money to do other things, such as routine tree maintenance.

The financial problems can be traced back, in part, to the recession, which started in 2008 and essentially eliminated any money available for regular tree trimming. At nearly the same time, the widespread borer infestation was becoming known, and made ash tree removal the chief priority, he said.

As a result, there’s been almost no maintenance work done in the last five or six years, other than emergency situations, and no money available for tree replacement, he said.

“Our trees are not being maintained unless we do them in-house,” Teiber said. “In the long run it’s going to cost us money because those trees are going to continue to grow, continue to have larger limbs that are hanging out over the streets, over the sidewalks. Those branches are going to have to be removed and once they get larger, they’re going to cost us a lot more money.”

While they’ll be able to spend about $150,000 this fall to purchase 500 trees at $300 a piece, that’s a small number compared to the thousands of trees they’re removing, he said. They started with taking out the largest ash trees first – those with 15-inch trunk diameters or larger – because those pose the biggest safety risks in terms of falling limbs, he said.

They’ve also focused on subdivisions with a high number of ash trees. Warwick subdivision, for example, lost nearly 80 percent of its trees. Grand Prairie had nearly 40 percent of its trees removed, Teiber said.

Joliet has taken a proactive approach, removing trees as quickly as money will allow instead of prolonging life spans with treatment in order to extend the time before removal is necessary, he said. Naperville is taking the treatment approach, but is also systematically budgeting to replace trees. Tinley Park is going the opposite route, spending more than $1.5 million to remove all of its ash trees in one year, he said.

The question for the council now is what to do about replacing those 8,000 or 10,000 ash trees here.

City Manager Jim Hock said he plans to come up with a budget proposal in which he will suggest one of two options. The first would be to purchase very young trees in bulk that can be raised by local nurseries and then paid for and planted incrementally over several years.

The other is to take advantage of a grant program that provides zero-percent interest loans to municipalities to purchase replacement trees for those killed by the ash borer, he said. The ability to plant those trees now rather than having to wait is appealing, he said.

“Once they’re in the ground that could be 10 years or 20 years of new growth for that tree versus budgeting annually for 400 or 500 trees,” Hock said.

Either way, the city needs to make a decision and move quickly, Mayor Tom Giarrante said.

“It would behoove us to (something) because the trees are going to get scarce when everybody’s out buying them,” he said.

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen at TheTimesWeekly.com.