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Robert Cook, owner of Cook's Tree Service, previously said his low price was the result of a math error, but he had hoped to complete the contract anyway.

City tree removal bill swells

Bargain-price contractor backs out; cost to double

– Fort Wayne will have to pay more than twice the price to remove dead ash trees this year after its too-good-to-be-true deal turned out to be just that.

Cook's Tree Service of Angola asked to default on its $586,610 contract to remove 4,500 ash trees after just a week on the job, according to Steve McDaniel, city superintendent of parks. The city will hire Mudrack Tree Service of Fort Wayne to do the work for $1.2 million – the second-lowest price submitted previously.

The work was originally estimated to cost $1.5 million, which the City Council approved for the parks department to pay for the work.

Robert Cook, owner of Cook's Tree Service, previously said his low price was the result of a math error, but he had hoped to complete the contract anyway.

McDaniel, however, said Cook lost his entire staff of 20 employees over the first five days working on the contract, which prompted Cook to ask to pull out.

The parks department had hoped the dramatically lower contract cost would work out so it could use the leftover money to remove the remaining 2,700 ash trees after this round was completed. Any money leftover from that work also could be used to replace the dead trees.

Now, the city will need to find money to remove those remaining trees and replace thousands of ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer. The borer gutted the city's ash tree population from a peak of about 14,000 along streets to less than 8,000.

Crews are just finishing the 2011 contract to remove 3,670 ash trees.

Parks Director Al Moll has been cautious about the contract with Cook's, telling his board and the council that he was unsure whether the work could be done at such a low price, but it was worth a try. He said there was no risk to the city because it would have to pay only for completed work.

"When it appears too good to believe, it probably is," Moll said.

McDaniel said the company will be paid for the 60 to 70 trees it did remove, which would be a few thousand dollars. The contract with Mudrack will be introduced to the City Council next week and could be approved by Aug. 28.

McDaniel said this would put the work about one month behind schedule.