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Hearing is set by city council to revise tree ordinance

WILLMAR -- Private property owners would be required to remove diseased trees, trees infected with emerald ash borer, or dead or hazardous trees under a revised ordinance that will be considered by the Willmar City Council.

The public will have a chance to comment on the revised ordinance during a council hearing on Aug.16.

The ordinance is being revised to combat the threat of the emerald ash borer, a non-native beetle discovered in the Detroit, Mich., area in 2002.

The insect kills all ash trees in its path and spreads mainly by the movement of firewood and nursery stock, according to state and local officials familiar with the insect.

The beetle has been found in 13 states including Minnesota where movement of infected ash wood was prohibited in three counties last year to help slow the borer's spread.

A council committee discussed Willmar's tree maintenance policy in April because the beetle's Minnesota presence has made it necessary to develop a means to manage the removal and replacement of infected ash trees.

An inventory found that 10,060 of Willmar's 16,255 boulevard trees are ash trees.

An additional 20,000 to 30,000 ash trees are located on private property, parklands and woodland areas.

Measures to control the borer are mandated and city policy should reflect state and federal statutes, according to the committee's report to the council.

The proposed ordinance addresses the emerald ash borer and other diseased trees that are declared as a nuisance. A certified tree inspector would be designated to confirm the diagnoses. The city will remove, trim or treat trees on public properties in accordance with the policy.

When the tree inspector finds a diseased tree on private property, the owner will be notified by certified mail, return receipt, or a hand-delivered note of the existence of the nuisance and will be directed to remove the tree within 30 days. If the property owner does not comply, the city will abate the nuisance and assess the property, the ordinance proposes.

The council voted Monday night to consider the ordinance at its next regular meeting.

In other business, the council:

- Approved two land acquisitions by the Willmar Municipal Utilities. The acquisitions had earlier been approved by the Planning Commission, as required by City Charter. The first acquisition is the former Taco John's store located at 822 Litchfield Ave. S.W. The land will be used by the utilities to provide additional parking and for long-range planning as part of a possible new office site. The second acquisition is located at 920 Pacific Ave. S.W. The utility has been renting the land from Burlington Northern Santa Fe for decades to store power plant coal and may construct a building to cover the coal and control coal dust.

- Approved the low bid of $2,037,700 from Reiner Contracting of Hutchinson for decommissioning the old wastewater treatment plant. Bids from four companies were received. The work will include demolition of most of the structures to 3 to 4 feet below grade level, removal of the storage tanks and grading the site for future use as a storm water detention pond. Closing the old plant is part of the $86.2 million program to build the new wastewater treatment plant and conveyance system, according to officials. Reiner is a contractor at the new treatment facility.

- Approved a request from Fire Chief Marv Calvin to conduct a training burn at the former Happy Chef/Rick's Royal Steakhouse at 2300 U.S. Highway 12 E. Calvin said the burn will provide a training opportunity for large room searches. The last commercial training burn was conducted a number of years ago at a steakhouse on South First Street, said Calvin.

- Honored and thanked Jim Kulset who retired in July after 33 years in law enforcement including 11 years as Willmar police chief. Kulset thanked the city of Willmar, the council and the citizens for embracing their police department with resources. He thanked the "topnotch'' staff and thanked his wife, Judy, for her support.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150