Ridgefield’s dying trees get another $95,000

With an ash borer infestation killing trees in vast numbers, and the usual tree problems as well, close to $100,000 has been aside for extra tree work by the selectmen.

“The ash trees, all you have to do is drive around town and you can see they’re all dying,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

The appropriation — $95,689 — puts to use money the town received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as reimbursement for money spent on recovery from the “microburst” storm of May 2018 that ripped through the Mamanasco area on its way to Brookfield and New Fairfield, where it did substantial damage.

The designation of the money for tree work was unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, Sept. 18, and will need approval from the Board of Finance, as well.

The FEMA money — anticipated for a while now — is at last ‘bird in the hand’ funding that can be put to use.

“The money has been received and is in the bank,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the board.

A report from Controller Kevin Redmond said that out of a $55,000 “tree replacement” line in the town’s capital budget for 2019-20, the town had spend $13,806.

“We’ve spent 34 percent the first two months,” Marconi said.

The town tree warden’s total budget is a little over $279,000, and almost $95,700 of that had been spent thus far in the fiscal year, according to Marconi.

“We have spent $100,000 out of a $280,000 budget,” he said, rounding off bit.

“Do we have an estimate for the ash tree remediation?” asked Selectwoman Barbara Manners.

“Not yet,” Marconi said. “We don’t know how many trees there are.”

Three-year process

While all of the ash trees in town are expected to die, Marconi said, the process usually takes about three years and various trees are in different stages of the decline — some need immediate work, others can wait another year.

The finance board seemed amenable to using the money for tree work when the issue came up at its meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 17 — but that was the night before the selectmen’s vote, and there was as yet no formal request to approve, so a finance board vote will have to wait until its next meeting.

Controller Redmond told the finance board action by the selectmen was expected.

“If you guys agree, and they agree, we can get moving on cleaning up some of these ash trees,” Redmond said.

The money is designed for tree work — not exclusively the ash tree problem, though that is likely to use up the bulk of it.

The $95,000 represents 75 percent federal reimbursement for about $127,000 that the town spent on cleanup for the storm in 2018.

Lake Mamanasco

“This was the microburst that went up through the Mamanasco area,” said Selectwoman Kozlak.

She thought some of the money should be used in that neighborhood.

“I know there are trees that fell in the lake,” Kozlark said. “...It can be very bad for the water to leave trees in there, dying like that.”

Marconi thought it appropriate to use the money from the Mamanasco microburst reimbursement on trees.

“The expense, because of that storm, was all tree work,” he said.

The town is regularly notified of problem trees via emails and phone calls from citizens, according to Marconi.

“People have become very understanding of the law,” he told fellow selectmen. “...If a tree is leaning on their property, they notify us right away.”

And more problems can come up any time.

“We’re in the beginning of hurricane season. Should we hold back a little?” Selectman Bob Hebert asked. “I just wanted to make sure we have enough money for any emergency situation.”

“Hurricane season is another two months,” said Marconi. “...We could get a snowstorm.”

Selectman Steve Zemo thought the board shouldn’t micromanage the spending of the tree budget.

“I think it should just go in there and it should be managed as triage,” he said.

“We can never have enough money when it comes to trees, honestly,” Marconi said.