STERLING – The city has declared war on dead and diseased trees.
The council has adopted an ordinance to better deal with a large number of dangerous trees in private yards. Trees on private property are the responsibility of residents, but the city has the right to intervene when a dead or dying tree is deemed a health, life and safety issue.
Call volume on hazardous trees has picked up at City Hall and officials would like to expedite the timeline for removing them.
“Neighbors are concerned that these trees could come down on their homes, fences, cars, or power lines,” City Manager Scott Shumard said.
City code also considers trees a hazard if they harbor insects or disease that could put other trees at risk.
The new ordinance, which was passed Monday to amend tree provisions already on the books, allows the city to issue a citation if the trees aren’t removed upon request. Before, the city could only place a lien on property for the cost of removal, which hasn’t brought the desired results.
A big part of the problem is the emerald ash borer. The beetle doesn’t cause much damage to trees in its native northeastern Asia, but it is highly destructive to ash trees outside of that region and climate.
The beetle was first detected in North America in 2002, and the invasive species has rapidly spread. It is believed that the insect made its way here in overseas shipping materials.
The city has been preparing for the war on the emerald ash borer since 2012. Public Works went through the entire city to survey the damage to ash trees. Based on the results, it’s believed that there are about 388 dead or diseased trees on private property and about 80 on city-owned land.
The city has taken down about a dozen trees on its property, but Public Works isn’t equipped to handle all of them.
“What we can safely reach with our equipment, we’ll take care of, but we can only go about 35 to 40 feet, and some of these trees are really big,” Public Works Superintendent Brad Schrader said.
Four recently were removed from the Broadway Avenue island area, which took four city workers a day to accomplish.
The city can help residents who aren’t sure whether they have a diseased tree on their property. Trees with no leaves are a good indicator that the beetle has struck.
“All of the city and private emerald ash borer trees are documented, and the city trees are marked with a large, white X,” Schrader said.
People have been ignoring tree-removal notices that have been left by the city. Officials assume that cost is the main reason, so a program has been set up to help residents with the expense. It can cost up to $1,000 to remove one tree, depending on size, difficulty of removal and proximity to power lines.
Applications for financial assistance are available at City Hall, 212 Third Ave.; aid will come in the form of partial reimbursement of the cost for using a professional tree removal service.
“Code Enforcement will go out and verify that the tree is dead, and then residents can find a contractor and submit the bill,” Schrader said. “We wanted to help people get rid of these instead of just fining for tree violations.”
Residents also have been confused about who owns some of the trees in their neighborhood. The city-owned trees in residential areas grow in the right of ways – the strips of land between the sidewalks and streets.
Code Enforcement staff at 815-632-6624 can answer questions about dead tree removal. If ownership is in question, the city will send staff out to make a determinations.