With the emerald ash borer laying waste to its urban forest, the St. Paul City Council will borrow $18 million to finish cutting down ash trees and replanting new species.
The city has spent years struggling to keep up with the invasive beetles, which were first discovered in the city in 2009. The pests attack and kill all species of ash trees.
The bonding bill, which partners with the St. Paul Port Authority, was sponsored by all seven council members and passed unanimously Wednesday.
The funds will exclusively go toward ash trees on city boulevards, public rights of way and other city land.
The city anticipates raising property taxes to repay the debt, amounting to $9 to $12 each year for the owner of a median-value home. These figures will be finalized during the sale of the bonds, which will likely occur in early 2022, according to city communications director Peter Leggett.
It costs the city about $1,200 to remove each tree. To date, the city has cut down 18,750 ash trees, and 8,250 remain, according to the city's forestry team.
The city's replanting efforts haven't kept pace with the removals, leaving some blocks without a tree canopy.
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hahm said during a June 9 council meeting that the partnership will fully fund the removal and stumping of all ash trees and replanting by 2026.
The funds will also provide more stability to the city's forestry program, which includes trim cycle, stumping and planting backlogs. Funds will be allocated toward a job training program for St. Paul youth that will seek to prepare them for green industry jobs.
Council Member Chris Tolbert represents a ward that includes the Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park neighborhoods, whose canopy included many ash trees that are now coming down.
Tolbert said the emerald ash borer has taken over the lives of the city's forestry professionals and thanked them for their tireless work.
"They go into forestry because they love trees and they love nature, not to try and take down trees, and they've had to take down trees for the last decade," Tolbert said.
Tolbert said his block has been virtually treeless for five years. This year, they finally received saplings.
"We have this baby tree, and I sit out there at night watering it ... because I know what it's like not having them," Tolbert said.