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Board looks at solutions for ash trees

The emerald ash borer may not have been officially located in Amherst yet, but the fact that it's been found in Buffalo, Lancaster and Cheektowaga is causing town officials to treat the destructive pests as if they've arrived.

"Even though we have not found it in Amherst yet, we consider it to be here because of its proximity," said Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson at Monday's Town Board work session. "It's within two miles."

Council members debated two options Monday regarding the more than 9,000 ash trees that line town streets and are likely doomed without town intervention:

*Spend roughly $600,000 in taxpayer money every other year to save the healthiest two-thirds of the town's streetside ash trees for years to come.

*Give up on all the town's ash trees and redirect the money that would have been used on routine ash tree vaccinations on ash tree removal and replacement with a hardier species.

"What do we do now?" said Supervisor Barry Weinstein.

"I know what I'd like to do next," Anderson responded, "and it's absolutely not that popular."

He said his tree committee estimates that roughly a third -- 3,000 -- of the town's ash trees are on the decline. They should be cut down and replaced, even though many of these trees may still appear outwardly healthy to many residents.

The 6,000 trees left could be treated at a rough cost of $100 a tree, he said.

Anderson calculated $600,000 to remove less-healthy ash trees, $480,000 to replace them with new trees of a different species, and $600,000 a year every other year to treat the 6,000 healthy ash trees, for a total initial expense of $1.68 million.

That price tag had many council members questioning whether saving currently healthy ash trees is worth the money.

"Why not just address this as a replacement process?" said Council Member Richard "Jay" Anderson at his last Town Board work session before being called to active military duty as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Council Member Steven Sanders expressed similar thoughts after hearing that there is currently no known end point at which the town would be able to stop treating the ash trees.

Council Member Guy Marlette said he wasn't keen on cutting down 3,000 less-healthy town ash trees at once, or on spending $600,000 every other year to spare the healthy ones. The town doesn't have the budget capacity to spend $1.6 million in one year on an ash tree problem, he said, and asked Anderson's tree committee to recommend a better plan.

Weinstein and Council Member Mark Manna said it would be worth buying the town's ash trees some time by vaccinating them for the next six to eight years.

"I agree we should do everything we can to save the trees we have," Manna said.

Weinstein said he would like the town to buy the ash trees and spend the money to vaccinate the trees for the next six to eight years, by which time more effective treatments may be available.

Certified arborist William Snyder told the board that there are newer forms of treatment to combat the ash borer, including a special species of stingless wasps that kill emerald ash borer larvae. But these wasps do not yet exist in great enough numbers to save ash trees.