Residents confront council over dying ash tree ‘disaster’

Friday, June 11, 2021

The routine “hear the public” item on the Alta City Council agenda this week turned into a lengthy sparring session over dealing with dying trees on the golf course and other property.

Jim Eaton questioned the city policy against burning. “The code says one thing, you guys say another,” he told the council. “We have to sit around and look at dead trees. You don’t have a good plan for nothing.”

If the community doesn’t start working together, it is doomed to failure,” he implored.

Dying trees infected with emerald ash borer damage are not supposed to be hauled for distances, for fear of spreading infestation, but the city won’t permit open burning, or for landowners to cut up trees to put on the city’s brush pile, Eaton said.

He said the city had purchased land near the sewer plant, but that the city only allows its own dead tress to be taken to that site that the city residents paid for. He said that if the city continues to deny residents another option, they will begin to haul tree refuse into the country to dump it.

“You can’t just make up rules. We have a bunch of councilmen with no idea what’s going on. A few do” he said.

He claimed that “codes only apply to certain people at certain times” in Alta, sparking Mayor Kevin Walsh to deny that some get special privileges. Walsh asked Eaton if he would serve if Walsh formed a special committee to examine the tree situation.

There was also some discussion about sending the matter to the board of adjustment, but council member Pam Henderson said that would only be “passing the buck,” and the concerned citizens in the audience seemed to agree.

Eaton also questioned why the city isn’t replanting trees where ashes are taken down, and was told that is happening, but that some of the trees the city is obtaining are not big enough yet, and are being developed in nursery style until they can be replanted as replacements.

Eaton said his father had been instrumental in Trees Forever efforts in Alta, and that it is troubling to drive around the town and see all the dead trees and spots where trees have been taken out. He said the prior mayor had thrown him out of a council meeting when he tried to raise issues with the process.

Voices were raised at times during the discussion.

Mayor Walsh said he relates to the landowners’ problems, but said the city had received nuisance complaints when burning has taken place.

“How do you win a no-won situation?” councilperson Henderson asked. “We’ve had this discussion. It’s like a tornado came through here. We have to support our residents and try to find a solution.” Councilperson Tom Lane, however, questioned why the council seems to be “bending over” to the group complaining.

Mayor Walsh suggested that the city’s attorney review the codes applying to trees and burning, for further consideration at a future meeting. Another suggestion was to declare a state of disaster in which certain rules could be relaxed.

“Let us clean up the disaster that we have, just like you have done around town,” one speaker urged the council. “It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

“We have to come to common ground,” the mayor agreed.

Later, the council talked about tree stumps that are accumulating as ash trees are cut down. The council opted to hire a local company to grind out stumps, as the city crew is occupied with tree removal. Wood chips could be offered to the public, it was suggested. Mayor Walsh said that based on the bids of four companies interested in the work, “It looks like a lot of stumps can be done for $15,000. He said he had recently counted 83 stumps already waiting for removal.