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Board lays out ash tree issues

The slides showed a Lexington street lined with leafy ash trees, then an Ohio city street lined with dead trunks and limbs that had not yet fallen.

The Ohio street had looked like the Lexington street just five years ago.

The message: Lexington needs a plan to deal with ash trees that are under attack by an insect called the emerald ash borer, which burrows under the trees' bark and kills them. The insect has killed millions of trees in northern states since being found near Detroit seven years ago. It was found in Kentucky, including near the Fayette-Jessamine County line, in May.

Karen Angelucci, chairwoman of the Lexington Tree Board, told the Urban County Council on Tuesday that the city is unprepared to deal with the estimated half-million ash trees in Fayette County. Many of those trees are highly visible along streets, greenways, golf courses and parks.

"Will we close the parks?" she asked. "Will this be a liability issue?"

Among the tree board's recommendations to deal with the insect and its damage:

■ Compile a list of pesticide applicators who agree to a set price for homeowners.

■ Consider helping homeowners with the price of treatments.

■ Increase the fund that helps homeowners with the cost of removing dead or diseased street trees.

■ Enforce an ordinance that requires that dead street trees be replaced.

■ Set a priority of saving some ash trees in parks, including historic blue ash trees that are more than 200 years old.

■ Help avoid future problems by stopping developers from planting all the same species of trees.

Mayor Jim Newberry threw cold water on any suggestion that called for spending more money in tight budget times.

"I will be the first to tell you that doing anything new next year is highly unlikely," he said.

But Councilwoman Andrea James, who is a member of the Tree Board, said she will bring suggestions to the council at a later date. She was not specific but suggested that the city's urban forestry program, which has three people, needs more attention.

"We saw the emerald ash borer as a wakeup call for our forestry program," she said.

Angelucci said he hopes that many people will decide to treat their trees, and noted that there may be a little breathing space before treatments absolutely must begin.

But ultimately, she said, the city will be forced to deal with many dead trees, the danger of falling limbs, many blank spots in the landscape, and the resulting reduction in shade, loss of air quality and increased runoff after rains.

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