Alta continues to debate tree issues

Friday, August 20, 2021

Alta continues to struggle with a heavy emerald ash borer infestation, and so far, the Iowa DNR isn’t proving to be much help.

The city council discussed the issue again recently, as residents forced to take down trees have no place to go with the waste wood.

Mayor Kevin Walsh said that he had contacted the DNR and asked for a representative to take part in a meeting with locals. “They don’t have a lot of interest to come to Alta, Iowa, and stand by their code that people can’t burn in town,” he said. The state contends that Alta would have to have a permit from the DNR to declare open burning, and the DNR is not willing to approve such a permit, he said.

He felt the DNR is giving the city a “runaround,” and suggested that Alta would be an ideal test site for a program to deal with diseased trees, as other communities will eventually have the same problem.

Resident Jim Eaton was frustrated with the standoff, saying that residents with deceased trees are told that wood can’t be hauled out of the area (to avoid spreading the infestation), while the council is telling them they can’t burn the waste either. “It’s been eight months and you can’t figure out what to do with our trees,” he said. “We’re in a disaster here, and no one is willing to do anything.”

Eaton and others want permission to burn. The people who have complained about burning before are now dealing with much worse as smoke drifts in from wildfires elsewhere in the county, Eaton said.

Burning is not going to happen in the Alta city limits, the mayor reiterated. The DNR says that if the city establishes a burn pile outside the city, residents should have access, but the land where the city piled its tree waste is leased and the owner may not want people using it, he said.

Mayor Walsh suggests that the problem is a county one, but after speaking with a member of the county board of supervisors, he sees no interest in establishing a public burn pile at the county level.

He assured that the city has heard the concerns and worked toward a solution, but currently the council has no answers.