Breckenridge spends big on beetle battle |

Breckenridge spends big on beetle battle

Robert Allen
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” The Breckenridge mountain pine beetle program could surpass its budget a third consecutive year if everyone participates.

“Based on the number of current year infested trees (176 percent increase), we may exceed the $620,000 budget for the cost share/reimbursement program element,” according to a Breckenridge staff memo to the Town Council.

This program component offers private property owners a $40 per-tree reimbursement for removing infested trees. Inspections are under way. They’ve been completed in the Highlands at Breckenridge, where more than 15,000 infested trees have been found ” worth a reimbursement value of more than $600,000.

At a town work session Tuesday, assistant public works director James Phelps said the staff is working on the program’s $40,000 replanting component. He said this cost could increase depending how it is structured.

Mayor Pro-tem Eric Mamula said a lack of effectiveness of pine beetle programs elsewhere, despite significant investment, “pretty much tells you that you cannot beat this.”

“So I think we really need to discuss which way we’re gonna take,” he said.

At $750,000, the budget for its program including all components is nearly four times that of last year. In 2007, the town had budgeted $200,000 and spent $508,216 on the program. It removed 6,600 infested trees.

An ordinance requiring inspections and holding property owners responsible for removals was approved last year.

“With the shortening of the season it is going to be logistically difficult for us to enforce the ordinance,” town community development planner Jennifer Cram said Tuesday.

The town aims to have infested trees removed by July 1, the deadline for the reimbursement program. The long, heavy snow season has made inspection and removal efforts more difficult.

The trees must be finely chipped when removed. As a program component, a free disposal site is offered to private contractors working in town limits.

Regarding the replanting program, council member Rob Millisor suggested at Tuesday’s work session the town purchase trees wholesale for an event where residents could purchase them at low prices.

Mayor John Warner said local landscaping businesses could affected adversely, as such a move would be “tantamount to setting up a T-shirt shop and selling T-shirts.”

But Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney said that under present conditions, there “might be a place for both.”

The widespread beetle problem affects an area’s susceptibility to fire and disrupts natural watersheds. Grants are available to help communities face these and other issues.

In August 2007, the town received a $45,000 grant from the Colorado State Forest Service’s Financial Assistance Program Cooperative Match Project. It is to be matched by $45,000 that Breckenridge spokesperson Kim DiLallo said is to be provided by the Red, White and Blue Fire District, the Town of Breckenridge, the Town of Blue River and the Highlands Park HOA.

“It’s sort of more of an education grant ” landscaping education,” DiLallo said. “Once the infested trees have kind of taken over, it’s sort of (a) public education effort as to how people should plant more healthy landscaping in their area.”

She said the effort will include an “on-the-ground demonstration of defensible space” and long-range planning toward creating a fuel break map for surrounding areas.

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