RACINE — Six months after an ordinance change giving the city permission to take down any privately owned tree infested with emerald ash borer or oak wilt, the city forester has began marking such trees for removal.
Oak wilt has not turned up in the city yet. But EAB, which was first spotted in the city last summer, has been slowly winding its way though the city’s ash tree population.
On Friday, City Forester Matt Koepnick said he had just marked about 25-30 infested trees on the grounds of Regency Mall, and even a few others on both public and private property.
“I just saw emerald ash borer five minutes ago, actually, at Memorial and Washington Avenue, where the bridge is,” Koepnick said.
The ordinance — approved by the City Council in mid-April — allows the city to order a private property owner to remove a tree that is infected with EAB or oak wilt.
Prior to the passage of the EAB ordinance, the city could only require the removal of private trees infested with Dutch elm disease, a fungus that kills elm trees.
The EAB ordinance is needed, Koepnick has said, to help the city keep the disease-spreading insects at bay, and to better protect both public and private trees in the city from becoming future hosts and victims.
Although he has marked several trees already, he has yet to mark any on private residential properties.
When forestry crews spot a tree with EAB they will follow through to make sure the tree is actually infested with one of the insects. If it is infected, a notice will be sent to the property owner, giving them 30 days to have the tree removed. If the property owner does not remove the tree, the city can hire a contractor to the work, and bill the property owner.
Koepnick said there are options available to private property owners looking to protect their trees from possible EAB infestation, including products available at hardware stores and greenhouses, and treatments available from tree care professionals.
Private vs. private
Another proposal related to the city’s trees, an ordinance that would have given the city forester authority to take down any tree that may pose a threat to a neighbor or their property, was recently voted down by the Board of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.
The board opted against considering the proposal on the advice of the City Attorney’s Office, which said the move could pose liability problems for the city.
The proposal was put forth by 6th District Alderwoman Sandy Weidner on behalf of a constituent who was concerned that an ailing tree near his property line might damage his garage or hurt his family if it fell.
Weidner said Friday that she introduced the proposal because she felt for the constituent, but understood the problems such a law change would create for the city.
The city can currently remove trees on private property that are not diseased, Koepnick said, but only if those trees are threatening the public land, sidewalk or roadway.
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