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City cuts a big deal to remove ash trees

Angola company’s bid is one-third of expected cost

– Cutting down 4,500 ash trees from city streets might cost a little more than a third of what Fort Wayne park officials expected.

The Board of Park Commissioners on Wednesday approved a $586,610 contract with Cook’s Tree Service of Angola to remove the majority of the remaining 8,000 ash trees from city streets.

The work was expected to cost $1.5 million, and other companies submitted prices for the project that ranged between $1.2 million and $1.8 million. The price was so good, in fact, that park officials triple checked with the company whether the number was real.

“We gave them an opportunity to walk away,” Parks Director Al Moll said. “They said they would do it.”

The company would only be paid for the trees it removed, so Moll said there was no risk to the city if the company discovers it can’t do the job.

Mayor Tom Henry last month pledged $1.5 million to the problem from the $8.5 million in unexpected income tax revenues resulting from state accounting errors. The City Council is expected to discuss that appropriation request this month.

Should the removal contract be successful, Moll said the money left over from the mayor’s pledge could be used to remove the estimated 2,700 ash trees that will still remain. If money remains after all the trees are removed, he said it could be used to help plant new trees.

The emerald ash borer has gutted the city’s ash tree population from a peak of about 14,000 along city streets. Crews are just finishing the 2011 contract to remove 3,670 ash trees, which cost $573,933.

Chad Tinkel, city arborist, said if the new contract is approved by the council, crews should begin removing ash trees in August. A separate $62,633 contract approved with Davey Resource Group will help the city mark the trees for removal. The work should take about a year.

Moll said the contract with Cook’s Tree Service allows for a one-year extension, so the city might be able to use the same firm to remove all of the trees, but he said that would be up to the private company.

“I don’t know how they can do it for that (price), but if they can, it’d be great,” Moll said.