Prairie Village struggles with how to handle approaching Emerald Ash Borer threat

Ash trees are prevalent in the northern parts of Prairie Village. An Emerald Ash Borer infestation could ultimately render streets like these nearly baren.

It’s only a matter of time, say tree experts, before the feared Emerald Ash Borer finds its way into the Prairie Village city limits and begins devastating the city’s Ash tree population.

But precisely what moves the city should take — if any — to protect its ample Ash stock is a issue that the Prairie Village City Council is only beginning to struggle with.

At Monday’s council meeting, the group heard a preliminary report from the Public Works department and Greg VanBooven, a member of the city’s Tree Board and owner of VanBooven Tree Care. A inventory of the city’s trees shows 737 Ashes on city property or along city streets (77 of those are on city property; 660 of them are along city streets).

VanBooven and Public Works director Bruce McNabb sought direction from the City Council on whether Prairie Village should be proactive in applying a preventative pesticide to Ash trees within the city — and which trees, if any, the city should pay to treat.

The estimate to treat just the 77 city-owned trees over the next 10 years is $42,500 to $85,000. The 10-year cost for a private homeowner to inspect and treat a single Ash tree is estimated at $1,000. Should the city take over responsibility for the treatment of Ashes along Prairie Village streets and on public property, 10-year cost estimates range from $400,000 to more than $720,000 — and no dedicated funding source exists for such a program.

Several councilors suggested that the city should not take on the responsibility of trying to protect street Ash trees not on city property (that is, the 660 Ash trees that line city streets, but aren’t in parks or other public spaces). Instead, they suggested the city wage a vigorous communication campaign to inform residents of the Emerald Ash Borer threat and their treatment options.

But others countered that the city and its residents were likely to incur significant costs whether they moved to actively protect the trees or not. The cost of removing trees eventually killed by the Emerald Ash Borer will be significant as well.

“I think you’re going to pay either way,” said Laura Wassmer of the prospect of having to remove dead Ash trees. “So do you pay to lose them, or do you pay to keep them? The option of doing nothing is going to be costly with no gain.”

The council directed City Staff to develop a more detailed proposal regarding options for the city to take an active role in protecting Ash trees.