A Ray of Light on Abandoned Ash Stumps
Thursday, April 27, 2017 2:45 PM

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Mayor Christopher Coleman (center) and neighborhood residents walk along a block on Nebraska that has been clear cut of ash trees.

Saint Paul officials say stumps left from ash trees cut down this winter should be cleared by the end of summer, and that replacement trees will be planted this fall or next spring.

Mayor Christopher Coleman and parks director Mike Hamm gave the new details April 26 after meeting with residents and viewing some of the blocks in District 10 most heavily affected by the city’s ash removal program. Their new plan, however, depends on reallocating about $600,000 to do the work. City officials expect to use about $400,000 of unused snow-plowing money, and are piecing together the remaining money, Coleman and Hamm say.

The City Council got a start on May 17 by redirecting $450,000 toward removing stumps and replanting saplings.

The lack of a timetable to remove stumps – and the lack of information about what’s going on – has caused increased grumbling among residents in District 10 and other areas of the city. “The communication piece – we’re working at getting better at that,” the mayor says.

Coleman and Hamm say they empathize with residents’ frustrations. “It’s a profound loss for that block and that house,” Hamm says. “It’s hard.”

“There’s nothing more dramatic than when you lose those trees and lose that canopy,” Coleman says, pointing out the benefits trees provide in shade, in beauty and neighborhood character, and for wildlife.

The mayor’s meeting with residents April 26 was set up by Ward 5 Council Member Amy Brendmoen and hosted by District 10 board member Maggie Zimmerman.

Options on the Table

If the money falls in place, Hamm says, stumps will be removed this summer. Replacement trees will be planted in fall 2017 or spring 2018, whichever gives the tree the best chance to survive.

The city will not repeat the mistakes made with elm and ash, he says; it will not plant a monoculture of trees on the same block. Instead, each neighborhood likely will get four different trees selected to add biodiversity and to complement that neighborhood’s existing tree canopy, Hamm says.

In District 10, that mix is likely to be oak, honey locust, Kentucky coffee tree, and hackberry. Not all residents will get their first choice, he says, but there will be some flexibility and dialogue about which trees go where in each neighborhood.

Right now, the city intends to plant 2-inch saplings. However, officials hope they can provide an option for individual residents or outside funders to pay extra to plant a more mature replacement tree. The challenge, Coleman says, is “it needs to be a policy that can cover all 18,000 trees, every home, and every neighborhood. We can’t negotiate individually with every homeowner.”

In addition, the city does have a permit available in which individual residents can buy their own tree and plant it in the city boulevard. “We’re looking to make [the permit process] more prominent, easier to understand, and as easy as possible for residents to use,” Hamm says.

Right-of-Way Ruling Torpedoes Budget

Saint Paul foresters cut down about 160 ash trees in public boulevards on about 20 blocks in District 10 this winter, part of the city’s accelerating fight against infestation by the invasive emerald ash borer. The latest trees removed in Como are part of the roughly 1,500 ash the city expects to cut down in 2017. That is nearly four times more ash than the city removed in 2016 as part of its “structural removal program.”

Cutting down that many trees wiped out the annual budget to fight emerald ash borer. That left no money for stump removal or planting replacement trees, Coleman and Hamm say. Although it is city crews who cut down and replant trees, Saint Paul does not have the equipment to grind and remove stumps. That means the city needs additional money to hire outside contractors to do that job, Coleman says.

The city originally hoped to add $900,000 to its emerald ash borer eradication program in 2017. But that money instead was diverted to a contingency fund to help cover a $30 million hole in the city budget – the result of courts overturning the city’s existing right-of-way assessment fees.

The Legislature Isn’t Helping

Part of the ongoing problem, Coleman says, is that Saint Paul is on its own in fighting the ash borer infestation. Despite years of requests, the Minnesota Legislature has not provided any financial help. That is in contrast to what probably would happen if the city lost thousands of trees to a tornado, he says. It also stands in contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when the Legislature provided more than $100 million to help communities deal with Dutch elm disease, Coleman says.

Fifteen of Minnesota’s 87 counties now have identified emerald ash borer infestations. But Saint Paul is ground zero, Coleman says, with about 97 percent of the city affected.

Saint Paul is being aggressive in taking down ash trees, the mayor says, because “we’ve seen other communities that have waited and waited. They waited until there was nothing but dead trees.”

The city is trying to act before infested and vulnerable trees become a public safety hazard, he says. “This was not reckless. This was well-researched, and the decisions are best on the best science.”

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Emerald ash borer has invaded nearly every part of Saint Paul.

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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