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Mar 15, 2017 11:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town To Tap Budget Surplus To Battle Pine Beetles

Robert Cole, a forest health operations supervisor with the Department of Environmental Conservation, talks about the southern pine beetle in Hubbard County Park in Hampton Bays. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Mar 15, 2017 11:41 AM

As southern pine beetles continue to devastate forests as they make their way across the East End, Southampton Town officials are moving forward with a plan to increase funding to battle the invasive bugs.

Town Board members agreed at last week’s work session to earmark $499,400 from the municipality’s fund balance surplus, which is estimated to be $30.4 million as of December 2016 and has continued to increase by an annual 5 percent growth rate, according to Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese.

The town’s share is required to meet the legal requirements and receive three separate $75,000 reimbursement grants previously secured from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Once that funding is secured, the town’s cost to battle the beetles would come down to $274,400.

The funding will be used on the continued clearing and removal of infected pine trees; the cutting down of trees infected by the southern pine beetle, and all those trees in the immediate vicinity, is the only proven way to control the spread of the non-native species, according to experts.

Southern pine beetles—tiny insects that burrow tunnels behind the bark of trees, blocking the flow of nutrients and typically killing a tree in two to four months—specifically target the native pitch pine, one of the dominant tree species in Suffolk County, the Pine Barrens and the forests in the town. Officials estimate that approximately 10,000 trees, many of which had been located in Hampton Bays, have already been cut down or removed to control the spread of the insects.

“Once a tree is infested, it’s going to die,” Southampton Town Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea said at the recent work session, held last Thursday, March 9.

According to Mr. Shea, in order to properly address the beetle problem, the town intends to match the state grants by reallocating $236,300 from the highway department surplus fund and the remainder from the general surplus, or $110,725 from the parks department fund and $152,375 from the Community Preservation Fund. The money will be allocated over several years, until March 2019, officials said.

Although the board ultimately decided to redirect some of the town’s surplus funds to address the beetles, a situation that it described as a “public safety issue,” Councilwoman Christine Scalera repeated her concerns about how her fellow board members are using the money. Earlier this month, she took issue with the board’s decision to tap the town’s surplus to fund a land purchase, stating that the board needs to establish specific guidelines for when it should spend surplus money.

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Lots of money for tree cutting, maybe we could give it a bit more attention?
For example, does anyone want to check on the work once it's granted? I watched some group of "union" workers (because the "prevailing wage" requirement is in the bid) from Brentwood cut down 4 or 5 trees on Town land then take most of the afternoon off. There were about 30 more pine trees that were around the infected trees but not checked off for cutting. Who's the Town arborist?
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Mar 20, 17 9:28 AM
$236K highway surplus to cut trees. Are we going to fill potholes with wood chips?
By harbor hound (31), southampton on Mar 20, 17 10:04 AM
What's gregor gonna give Jay for Christmas this year? $200,000 dollars from the highway budget gone. Let the bitching and moaning begin!!!
By Dumpgregor (12), Hampton Bays on Mar 20, 17 11:18 AM
In County parklands where tree cutting has been practiced to try to control the beetles I notice that after the trees are cut they are not removed but are allowed to lie on the ground. What prevents the beetles in those felled trees from migrating to nearby standing trees? Are we attempting eradicate beetles or trees?
By VOS (1241), WHB on Mar 20, 17 4:08 PM
VOS - once the tree is cut the beetles cannot leave the tree and enter another one. It's based on life cycle of the beetles and how they move. When a tree is cut, the flow of water through the tree stops, preventing the beetles from being able to move back outside the bark layer.
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Mar 21, 17 9:15 AM
Led Zeppelin was always better than the Beatles.
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Mar 20, 17 11:31 PM
Nature - what you wrote is a total and complete lie. Both the beetles and their larvae can move from a felled tree to another healthy, living tree easily. So just leaving them on the ground is not an option if eradication is the goal
By G (342), Southampton on Mar 21, 17 10:03 AM
By the time the trees are dead, the beetles have already moved on to a new, living tree. Cutting of dead trees is for public safety.

If a "living" tree is infested with beetles, it is usually cut down, then scored down the middle to open the bark up and expose the beetles and larvae to the elements which will kill them.
By TessM (1), Flanders on Mar 21, 17 10:33 AM
It certainly looks like there is not a good answer available here - perhaps the Press is capable of asking some questions of sources that may provide a definitive answer.

Mar 25, 17 2:58 AM appended by VOS
Rereading the above story claims that the procedure is to cut and remove infested trees even as there is no indication trees have been removed after cutting. A bit of Googling reveals the beetles, at certain stages, will fly up to two miles to find new host trees. This currently looks like a waste of taxpayer funds if an incomplete process is executed. More info here:http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/trees/southern_pine_beetle.htm
By VOS (1241), WHB on Mar 25, 17 2:58 AM