Sarnia needs to take action on hundreds of dying trees decimated by the emerald ash borer because they pose a safety risk to residents, a city man says.
Jeff Glass lives on Woodhaven Avenue, where a row of once beautiful ash trees line the city boulevard next to his home.
Dying branches have begun to fall, and on Monday a four-inch thick limb 15 feet long crashed onto his driveway, he said.
“Had the truck been parked there I’d be down at the body shop trying to get a new windshield,” he said. “I’m just getting frustrated. This tree needs to come down.”
But Glass’ pleas to city hall have gone unheeded.
Why, after years of knowing the insect is killing millions of trees in Southwestern Ontario, does Sarnia seems so unprepared for the devastation? he asked
“I feel like I’m just getting lip-service from city hall.”
When Glass contacted the community services department, which is overseeing the removal of 2,900 dead or dying ash trees on public property, he was told his trees aren’t at the top of the list.
Actually, they’re 22nd on the list, and it could take crews months to get to them, he said.
“We live near High Park School. Kids are walking past on a daily basis during the school year. It’s a safety issue.”
Glass said he was told by a city worker the department is short two people because of a paternity leave and sick leave.
“If this is such an issue, we obviously need to contract some people. It’s a liability,” he said.
The emerald ash borer is native to Asia and first showed up in Michigan in 2002.
Community services director Ian Smith acknowledged Sarnia is “behind the curve” on the clean-up. But he denies the tree crew is short-staffed, saying the worker leaving on paternity leave will be replaced.
Infected trees are cut down based on priority, out of fairness to all homeowners, Smith said.
“(Glass’) trees have foliage which means the tree has some life. The trees (the city arbourist) is working with, they’re down to the branches. The trees have been dead for a longer period and are more of a problem.”
Smith filed an ash borer response plan to city council within a month of taking the job as community services director. Council earmarked $200,000 to remove and dispose of public trees, and contractors have been hired to cut in parks, he said.
“Unfortunately, we’re running behind the curve on the ash trees,” he said. “We’ve taken some strategies to council and they’ve worked with us. We’re trying to catch up to the curve.”
Sarnia isn’t the only local municipality grappling with the problem. Plympton-Wyoming council asked staff recently to seek federal or provincial programs to help offset tree removal costs. The township has budgeted $75,000 this year to cut ash trees on public property.
“This is new territory and quite a problem,” said Mayor Lonny Napper. “We’re being proactive and looking into what kind of programs are out there to help us.”