East Hampton officials have ended a state of emergency over the town’s infestation of southern pine beetles, though they continue to fight the insects’ encroachment on the region.
The state of emergency ended Dec. 22, capping a period in which town officials removed infested trees at no cost to property owners, said Andrew Gaites, a senior environmental analyst for East Hampton.
“We have been authorized by the town board to continue doing the service of inspections on people’s private properties at their request,” Gaites said. “We can advise if they find infested trees, but the town will not be felling any of the trees at the town’s expense on those properties.”
While the state of emergency is over, the problem is “absolutely not” gone, Gaites said.
The beetles are an invasive species that kill and weaken trees, making them more susceptible to disease, falling and fire.
“We made a good effort,” he said. “But we know that there are other outlying infestations popping up in various places around town.”
He said officials are still seeking an $80,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to help pay for the massive effort to kill the beetles by cutting down trees and exposing beetles to the elements when they are in the larvae stage and most vulnerable.
Town environmental officials first discovered the problem while surveying land in the fall and have cut down more than 8,200 trees in an effort to get ahead of the problem.
“We don’t know how many more trees we’re going to find,” Gaites said. “We’re continuing to inspect acres of private property. We’ve found over 500 more [trees] on town lands that will need to be addressed.” The town has spent $320,000 since late September to combat the insect, Gaites said.
Town officials said they initially found 800 infested trees in a 6.5-acre section of the Northwest Woods neighborhood at the end of September. The pine beetle infestation has since spread to other areas, including parts of Wainscott.
Then-Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell first declared a five-day state of emergency on Oct. 26 to open up funding. It was extended several times.
The main cost for the town has been hiring subcontractors to help flag and cut down trees.