pine trees

Thousands of dead pines are scattered throughout northern Alexander City, many damaged during storms earlier this year. Now the pines are presenting what could be an ‘ecological disaster,’ officials said. Work has started behind the public works shop on Railey Road by chipping the large pile of trees and other wooden debris.

A drive around north Alexander City reveals dead pine trees.

While a dead one here or there is expected, thousands of dead pines are scattered throughout northern Alexander City. Most suffered damage during the April storm from hail and now present a problem.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System county coordinator Shane Harris the trees were damaged by the hail knocking pine needles off.

“The trees were already stressed to a certain degree at the time because of a drought,” Harris said. “The hail damage just made the situation worse. The pine trees never put back out; the hardwoods did. While the hardwoods aren’t looking pretty, they are alive. The pines struggled.”

Harris said he has visited the damaged pine trees several times since April.

“The beetles came in and finished them off,” Harris said. “The beetles can sense when the trees are stressed and attack those.”

Harris said pine beetles are not as common near homes but sometimes damage trees in a landscape setting.

“They are normally seen in patches in a forest setting,” Harris said. “They will find a patch and go after them.”

Harris said he had never seen a live beetle attacking a tree until this infestation.

“It’s the first time in 20 years I have ever seen it,” Harris said. “I saw live beetles being pulled from a tree. In northern Alexander City the beetles are in both the forest and landscape setting.”

Harris said the trees have likely been dead a few months now and present an issue for property owners as the trees began to deteriorate.

“As they begin to break down, limbs will start to fall; trees will start to fall,” Harris said. “The more storms we have, they are going to snap and break. They need to come down especially in a residential area.”

Harris insurance companies will not pay to have the dead pine trees removed until they fall and cause damage. Harris cautions homeowners from taking action themselves.

“The houses are close, side by side,” Harris said. “There is a liability in taking the trees down and who is responsible for taking down dead trees.”

Harris said professional tree services need to do the work, but many cannot afford the service without help. Alexander City Mayor Woody Baird told the Alexander City Kiwanis Club, where he spoke last week, he is hoping for a solution from the federal government. Currently Alexander City will receive reimbursement funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but not for trees on private property.

“The only money we are getting for taking down dead trees is for those in right-of-ways,” Baird said. “If the tree is the right of way of a road, where it can fall into a road and cause problems, if it is close to a water line where if it falls or uproots and could tear up water lines, then that is considered right of way. We have a company coming in taking care of that right now.”

Baird said a FEMA Public Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) is needed.

“Trees on private property, we can’t touch,” Baird said. I have directed (Alexander City public works director) Gerard Brewer (Thursday) morning to make the PPDR application. It’s going to cost the city $4,000 and likely be turned down.”

Baird said FEMA said the process of doing public work on private property is impossible because a property can be owned by multiple people. All property owners must sign the permit before the work can be done. But Baird sees the money in an application despite the likely denial as an investment.

“The way I look at this is, if I go to Sen. (Richard) Shelby, Sen. (Doug) Jones, (U.S. Senator-elect Tommy) Tuberville, or whoever to talk to them about getting federal money and help us with these trees, the first thing they are going to ask is did you go through the process? Did you go to FEMA? Did you do everything you could do to get money from FEMA?” Baird said. “I’m investing $4,000 and hope I get more money on the other end.”

The Alexander City City Council weighed in on the matter at its Monday meeting. In order to spend public money on private property it has to pass a resolution. The resolution passed Monday and councilmember Bobby Tapley said funding is much needed for taking the trees down.

“I think getting funding is a good thing as many of these trees are on property belonging to lower income residents,” Tapley said. They can’t afford to hire this work down.”

Tapley said tree removal on private property is also needed to protect the city’s infrastructure.

“There are trees just beyond rights of way near power lines too,” Tapley said. “They could fall and cause more damage to our electrical system.”

Baird is wanting to get the application in quickly to be able to go to Shelby and Jones before the end of the year.

“I’m trying to go to Jones before he goes out of office,” Baird said. “I mean he has nothing to lose by giving us money. If he can direct some money our way to take care of some of these trees, we are better off. We have got to get these trees down. We are fixing to face an ecological disaster with these trees.”

Other work related to removing damaged trees on public property reimbursed by FEMA and the State of Alabama is already underway. The city will get 87.5% of approved expenditures back. The work has started behind the public works shop on Railey Road by chipping the large pile of trees and other wooden debris, but Baird wants the chip piles moved quickly and cheaply.

“What we are looking at is chip burners, people who use those chips,” Baird said. “We will give them the chips just to haul them away so we don’t have any money tied up in it. We are going to get that pile gone.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.