Alta wrestles with tree burning issues, rural burn site purchase a possibility

Friday, July 9, 2021

Alta continues to wrestle with emerald ash borer issues. With some residents calling for permission to burn dead tree waste, the DNR is reportedly telling city officials that such burning would be a policy violation.

City Clerk Megan Peterson said it seems like the situation is at a “standstill.” The state required remains of infected trees to be kept within state lines, preferable not going out of county.

The council has discussed having a state of emergency declared by the mayor, but is being told that an emergency can only be declared from the state of federal level. City attorney Gary Armstrong said he disagrees with that assessment, feeling that city ordinance gives the mayor the power to declare an emergency. “The DNR is not the final word on the law.” he said.

Council member Molly Elston felt the issue is a local one. “If we are to be a good neighbor, we don’t take it to Aurelia, we don’t take it to Storm Lake, we don’t take it to Schaller,” she said of spreading the pest by hauling downed wood.

The situation means that no one will be allowed to burn this summer, the mayor said, but it was suggested to create a protocol for safe burning in the event that the city finds a way to allow it.

Mayor Kevin Walsh said that one possibility could have the city buying a few acres of land outside of city limits where dead ash wood could be burned, but that would require times to be set and supervision arranged. He said he is not certain Alta residents want to take on the cost of such a purchase.

City officials say they will continue to investigate options and discussion will continue.

Plans to have some of the dead tree trunks along the city park and football field turned into sculptures supporting the Alta-Aurelia sports teams is in question. City officials said that attempts to contact the chainsaw artist have gone unanswered. If the work can’t move ahead, council members say the trees should be removed soon. The city will touch base with school boosters before that happens. Mayor Walsh said the city and contractors are making good progress on removal of ash trees. Thirty-nine were taken down in the past month. Even averaging three trees a day, crews will not be able to catch up any time soon, it was reported.

Concern has also been raised over 12-15 dead trees in the park area, between the swimming pool and tennis courts. Falling limbs could create a safety issue in the public area. The streets superintendent was made aware of the situation so the trees can be handled as soon as possible. A disc golf addition has been suggested for that area.

With RAGBRAI coming through the city this month, trees on Main Street are also a top priority. Those that have been removed will be taken down to ground level to make the area as attractive as possible.