JOLIET – By next year, 90 percent of the ash trees in Joliet could be dead, victims of the emerald ash borer.
How quickly the city can remove the dead and dying trees from its parkways and what it can replace them with were among the topics discussed by the Joliet City Council on Tuesday.
Under the current practice of using city crews on smaller trees – those less than 15 inches in diameter – and contractors on the larger ones, removal of the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 ash trees could take more than 10 years, according to Jim Teiber, the city’s arborist.
“We’re going to have to start with the larger trees first,” Teiber said. “We’re going to have to take care of the larger ones that could come down on houses and cars first.”
Smaller trees that pose less of a threat, especially those in newer subdivisions to the far west and east, are a secondary priority, Teiber said.
Funding has been the key issue. Teiber noted his department’s $350,000 budget “is not going to get us very far.”
Of that money, $200,000 is set aside for emerald ash borer hazard removal.
Teiber noted that the village of Tinley Park recently spent $1.5 million to remove its 9,000 ash trees.
The challenge for Joliet only branches out from there:
• Due to the city’s financial constraints, no money has been budgeted for routine maintenance of other tree species for several years. As the trees continue to grow, so does the potential cost of maintaining them, Teiber said.
• Before it can get a handle on which trees need to be removed, the city will need to inventory them. It recently purchased software for that task. Unfortunately, staff has had no luck in finding qualified applicants for its four tree inventory summer intern positions, according to City Manager Jim Hock.
• There is no funding to replace trees removed from the parkway. Teiber and Hock plan to propose spending $150,000 this year to replace 500 trees.
Ultimately, the council will have to make a decision on how to deal with the issue citywide, Hock said.
Several options are available. For instance, the Illinois Finance Authority is offering zero percent loans over 20 years to municipalities to replace trees lost to the emerald ash borer, Hock said.
The city also could take advantage of contracting a grower to provide trees to the city over several years, a method which could be 25 to 50 percent cheaper than purchasing through a nursery, Teiber said.
Hock said staff will present a long-term tree replacement plan to the council later this fall.