"A disaster waiting to happen": Niagara Falls tries to keep up with dying ash trees

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) - There are around 700 weakened or dying ash trees in Niagara Falls. They have to be taken down, but the city is struggling to find the money to deal with the problem.

"We can't keep up," Joseph Urso, the city forester, said Tuesday. "I think we're probably about a few seasons, maybe fall or next year, where you start to see major failure of these trees."

The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle, is to blame for these dying trees. Urso says once a tree is infected it usually only survives four or five years.

That's a big concern, since hundreds of these trees line city streets close to homes and cars. People and property could be in the way should one of the dying ash trees comes down during a storm or due to rot.

"I wish we could be proactive, but with limited funding it's rather difficult to do," Urso explained. "We can respond, and we know FEMA responds, after the disaster. But, this unfortunately is a disaster waiting to happen."

Niagara Falls used to rely on revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino to help pay to remove these dangerous trees. But, with that money off the table, the city is looking other places to fill in the funding gaps.

"We definitely need to find some outside sources of funding," Councilman Kenny Tompkins said. "The city itself does not have the funding. Especially with casino revenue in limbo right now."

Tompkins is working with NYS Senator Rob Ortt to apply for state funding and with fellow Councilman Bill Kennedy to apply for help from the Niagara River Greenway Commission.

This problem is not unique to Niagara Falls. The emerald ash borer is now found in 30 states. Niagara Falls keeps a detailed inventory of ash trees within the city, something Urso says helps keep track of the problem.

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