Tate Twp. residents hire attorney to help with beetle fight

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TATE TWP, Ohio - When Dan and Laura Weber left Manhattan a year-and-a-half ago, they traded the city life of New York for a more relaxed lifestyle in Clermont County's Tate Township.

They bought a home on Swing's Corner-Point Isabel Road that had a driveway lined on both sides with 100-year-old trees and a total of 150 trees on the property.

"We fell in love with it and bought it for the environment, especially the trees," Dan said Thursday.

"They're big maples. Really old. They provide lots of shade," Laura added. "It's beautiful or it was beautiful."

Laura's somber tone was nearly drowned out by the sound of chain saws of crews starting the removal of virtually every tree on the property.

"It's devastating as you can probably imagine," said Dan. "It's going to be a field here in a few days."

The trees are coming down because officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) have determined they were infested by the Asian longhorned beetle.

In fact, experts have identified 5,000 trees they say must come down to stop the spread of the beetle.

"The infested trees need to be removed for the good of the community," Dan continued. "We don't really take issue with that."

However, he added he's never seen one of the beetles in question.

What has the Webers and other residents upset is the plan to also remove every potential host tree within a quarter-mile of each infested tree.

Estimates place the number in that category at more than 45,000.

"That plan would be completely devastating to the community," said Laura.

"They haven't explored other options," added Dan. "They're just going to come in and take everything and it just doesn't seem right."

Once the trees are removed, the contractor is chipping the wood into small pieces, which effectively stops the beetle infestation. However, the contract allows the company to sell the chips and keep the profits.

The Webers don't think that's right.

"We don't understand why they should be able to sell our property at a profit," said Dan.

To make sure their concerns are heard, the Webers have joined with other residents in hiring attorney Brian O'Connell to protect their rights.

O'Connell said he has already begun a dialogue with the USDA and ODA to explore chemical treatments for the potential host trees.

"That has been used successfully in other parts of the country," he said.

The other thing O'Connell is doing is researching the law on whether residents are entitled to compensation for the loss of their trees and the sale of the wood chips. He said he feels it does.

He compared it to the process of eminent doman, where private property can be taken for public use.

"The property owners are entitled to be compensated for that," O'Connel added. "That's really what we have here."

If they are compensated, the Webers say they'd like to see a community replanting program begun.

"That would help us out and help our community out," Laura said.

Dan added, "It's not going to look like this in our lifetime, but at least we could put a start into planting for the future."

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