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Ash tree removal program draws criticism in Delaware County

In Delaware County, loggers continue to cut down ash trees. The huge ash tree clearing effort is aimed at stopping the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer.

The effort is drawing sharp criticism from land owners who claim they are being bullied by state officials and the contractor hired to cut the trees.

Old state route 315 is one of Ohio's scenic by-ways. After the six-lane highway narrows to a two-lanes road in Delaware County, it bends with the curve of the adjacent Olentangy River and rises and falls with the landscape. Much of the beauty of the road comes from the trees along its sides.

But over the past few months workers have cut down many of those trees at the far northern tip of 315- where it meets State Route 23.

It's all because of a tiny insect called the Emerald Ash Borer. The borrowing ash tree bug which has killed millions of trees in Michigan, Indiana and northwest Ohio was discovered in Delaware County last year. To stop the infestation, State Agriculture officials ordered the removal of every ash tree within a half mile of where they found the bugs.

The cutting has caused a lot of anxiety and complaints.

They're my trees,' says Kelly Silveous who owns a 120 acre gated estate on route 315. Much of the property is woods. As she walks along a path she points out scores of trees she's already cut. Scores more, marked with red spray paint still need to be cut. With tears in her eyes she describes how she must cut and remove 3,400 trees from her property.

And these trees, not in my lifetime will we see them again, she said.

Her first complaint is that she does not think the trees need to be removed in the first place. Her property is right on the edge of the mile eradication zone .and inspectors have not found any ash tree borers in her trees.

In fact, Ohio Agriculture officials have found only two infected trees..but those two trees have led to the cutting down of at least 21,000 ash trees in Delaware county. Land owners have to cut the trees themselves, allow the state to cut them or face court action.

Ohio Agriculture Department spokeswoman Melissa Brewer says, while painful, cutting trees in a half mile radius is the only known way to keep the ash borer infestation from spreading.

Those trees while they may be showing symptoms may be infested and again when you have infested trees.. those bugs have moved on to other trees It may take a couple years for those trees to be infected but they will be dead in 3-5 years so it's not going to take long to see the devestation that you are going to have, Brewer said.

Some Delaware County neighbors also complain about the contractor doing the state's cutting. Pennsylvania based Asplundh Tree Company is doing the state's work. It uses big equipment.. a large track driven tractor with a pliers-like claw cuts large trees in one clench and drags them to a chipper.

Dave Cline complains Asplundh crews carelessly tore up his property.. leaving wide deep muddy ruts.

Their attitude is no matter what happens, no matter what the weather is.. there's no planning there's no effort to protect landowners property. We got the contract we can do what we want, Clime said.

Other neighbors complain Asplundh has damaged other non-ash trees. Some neighbors like Kelly Silveous's daughter Brooke Holcomb have received permission to cut and get rid of their own trees.

We would like to minimize the damage we would like to maintain the integrity of the land if these trees must come down we would like to remove the trees without damaging other health trees, said Holcomb.

Hank Barton, an Asplundh crew manager clearing trees along the banks of the Olentangy disagreed.

They just get too anxious. People are in too big a hurry. And they don't wait to see the end result, said Barton.

By contract Asplundh is required to clean up any mess they leave. Barton says they do clean up.

That's what that rake is for We'll smooth all the ruts out.

A mild winter has meant more mud and that has made the job messier. And Barton blames other loggers for the non-ash tree damage.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture's Melissa Brewer says she sympathizes with the landowners but she says the messy process of clearing trees needs to happen to protect the rest of the state's ash trees.

It's more than a back yard issue. It is very hard and it can be a rough situation to take these ash trees ultimately you have to look at what's best for the state of Ohio."

Meanwhile the cutting continues.. a cut-off in federal funding will not stop the Delaware county eradication effort - that money was in last year's budget. The State has until may to finish the job - that's when adult emerald ash borers emerge again.