MOORHEAD — Moorhead Public Works Director Steve Moore has received the City Council's blessing to make changes in the city's curbside branch and brush pickup and to continue working on a plan to deal with the tree-eating emerald ash borer beetle.

Currently a two-person crew runs a weekly route that covers parts of the city each day from May through September picking up piles that are limited to 4 feet high, 8 feet wide and 12 feet long for free. Larger piles of logs are picked up on Fridays.

The council approved at their meeting Monday, March 23, of changing the pickup to once every two weeks starting May 1, similar to what Fargo began last year to reduce overall costs and manpower while continuing a "valuable service."

Moore, in his presentation, said that would reduce the route that the crew drives by each day from 2,100 homes to 1,050.

Two other options that were rejected were discontinuing the curbside pickup and have homeowners deliver to the city's compost site or continuing the status quo and adding a second two-person crew at an additional cost.

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Moore also discussed the city's 27,000-tree urban forest, including what lies ahead in a plan to deal with the expected arrival of the emerald ash borer.

The beetle, which kills a tree within two years, hasn't been found yet in Moorhead. But it has been moving up Interstate 94 and was found as close as Sauk Centre, Minn., and in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Winnipeg.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he said of the beetle's arrival.

Moore, who hopes to have an initial plan ready by May, estimates that about 30% of the city's tree population or 7,700 are ash trees. Eventually it could cost the city $4 million to $5 million for removals, treatment and replacement trees, he said.

"It could actually be here already, but we just don't know," Moore said.

In preparation, the city has been working on removing at-risk trees with 90 to 100 city removals planned for this year.

A grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for $50,000 is also currently being used to remove 195 more trees, with about 115 already taken down by the local Carr's Tree Service. Moore hopes more such grants can be obtained.

The city will then as part of the current matching grant plant an equal amount in 2021 of different replacement tree varieties, including black walnut, oak, lilac, hackberry, Kentucky coffee trees, birch and even elm that are resistant to Dutch Elm disease.

Moore said the forestry department hopes to increase and diversify the urban forest by a net of 650 trees annually, something that has been ongoing with an increase of 6,049 trees since 2007.

Last year was a major setback in the effort with only a net gain of four trees because of the summer wind storm that forced crews to spend weeks cleaning up lost trees and branches.