Emerald ash borer infestation could increase tree work budget

The emerald ash borer infestation has the town burning through money allocated for tree work, and First Selectman Rudy Maroni said he’s looking to add another $95,000 to a regular budget allocation of about $220,000.

The money he would use is reimbursement the town is receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for costs associated with a previous storm recovery and cleanup efforts.

“I spoke to the Board of Selectmen about this. We have about $95,000 coming in,” Marconi said.

“We have the ash borer problems, we have many, many ash trees that are infected, are in the process of dying, or have actually died, creating a hazard in public rights of way. That’s what we’re addressing and we would like to use this additional funding to help address.”

The town has been getting “multiple phone calls, and emails as well,” Marconi said, “...from people who have identified this issue and locations of those trees.”

Connecticut ash trees are expected to be completely wiped out by the beetle in roughly the next eight years, according to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Ash trees make up roughly 5 percent of the state’s forest, and a state map shows much of western Ridgefield ash trees may make up close to 20 percent of the forest.

How many ash trees in town are affected?

“I don’t have a count,” Marconi said. “But I can tell you that in the first two months of this fiscal year we will be spending approximately $100,000 in the clearing and removal of trees — this is coming out of the existing budget. We have about $220,000 a year we allocate to tree care and removal.

“Of that money we’re pushing close to $100,000 — so, in the first two months we’re about halfway through our annual budget, and we’re not going to have enough to take care of everything. That’s why I would like to use this reimbursement from FEMA.”

The town’s efforts compliment those of Eversource, the regional electric utility, which is working to take down trees and trim back branches near power lines.

“Eversource is working on a main line now in the north end of town, cutting as much as they can,” Marconi said. “We also have trees that Eversource won’t cut that we have to — that they feel are not in their right of way, but we know could cause a dangerous situation for our traffic and pedestrians, on roads.

“That, hopefully, in collaboration with Eversource will eliminate power outages,” Marconi said.

“We have an abundance of land that abuts private homes, open space, we need to address a lot of those trees,” he added.

“If we do take them down, we normally do not look at stump removal — we have made the area safe, and that’s the goal of the program. So currently it does not involve stump removal.”

There’s an ongoing effort to identify trees that will need attention now, and others that may need to be cut in the next few years.

“And we’re working with the tree committee very closely, with Robert Roth, the current chair,” Marconi said.

“We’ve had meetings to discuss this, the identification of the ash trees and the problems. Some may be infected, but not at a point where they’re endangering anyone or anything. But we need to make note of them for the future because it may take two or three years for them to get to the point of decay where they need to be removed.

“This isn’t a six- to nine-month type of a problem, this is going to be ongoing,” Marconi said. “We just need to get our arms around it, identify how big a problem it is, and implement a strategy going forward.”