With Fremont entering the Emerald Ash Borer quarantine zone around a year ago, the news came with the realization that the town would suffer great tree loss.
The insect, which infects Ash trees, was identified in Omaha approximately a year ago to numerous expert’s dismay. Now it is a virtual fact that the pesky creature has made its arrival in Fremont.
“They say that the borer is in Fremont, they haven’t seen it but they know it has to be here,” City Administrator Brian Newton said during a Friday interview with the Tribune. “Within 10 years almost every ash tree in Fremont will be dead because of the Emerald Ash Borer, because we see that happening east of us. As it travels west it absolutely decimates Ash trees.”
With every fifth tree in Fremont being an Ash, the landscape will undoubtedly be greatly altered.
“Over a year ago we were put in the quarantine area, we spoke extensively with an (Nebraska) Extension agent and then did an inventory by counting city trees and Department of Utility trees,” Newton said. “Several thousand will have to be cut down.”
With nobody allowed to take wood from the City of Fremont Dumpsite do to the quarantine – spreading infected wood is what transports the borers to new locations – the dump, which is already very full, would become unmanageable at a rapid rate.
During an Aug. 8 Fremont City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution authorizing the City of Fremont to accept a $478,000 grant by entering into an agreement with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for grant funds to purchase a tree chipper/grinder.
The full expense of the machine, Newton said, is approximately $750,000. The machine will be shared with the City of Blair.
“So we reached out to the NDEQ for this grant, and I also reached out to Rod Storm (Blair City Administrator) and asked if this was something they would be interested in, because it’s something they are going to be dealing with, too,” Newton said.
Fremont is paying for 76 percent of machine expenses and Blair is covering 24. The breakdown of cost was based on city population size. One of the main reasons the machine is such a beneficial tool is because it allows the damaged trees to be put to good use rather than being burned or discarded in a land fill.
“The chipper is the best idea because we currently make compost already,” Newton said. “We just got a grant from NDEQ for a compost turner that turns the pile that allows us to make Class A compost that can be used in gardens, on golf courses and for other domestic types of things.”
The Class B compost being created is used for farm fertilizer, he said.
“Wood chips can be used to help make Class A compost,” Newton said. “Another thing we will do is grade them (chips) and sell them to people as mulch. We will re-grind it, color it and sell it for landscaping mulch.”
The chipper will cut the pieces of infected wood into one-inch chips, ensuring that the borers are killed in the process. In addition to being used as mulch and compost, the chips can also serve as bedding for livestock.
When people’s Ash trees begin dying, a small fee may be associated with turning trees over to the city, however, this will be cheaper and more convenient than hauling them elsewhere.
While it’s not an ideal situation, being proactive now is the smart move.
“If this is going to happen this is a good solution,” Newton said. “This (tree infection) is going to be happening all across the whole state of Nebraska, so we wanted to address this now and maybe pave the way for others to follow.”