On Centre: Centre Region | Ferguson Township to explore oak wilt treatment program after all

September 20, 2013 

— Supervisors this week took an about-face on checking into oak wilt, a fungus that kills those trees.

On Sept. 2, with one supervisor absent, the board was split on whether the township should consider a mitigation program for the fungus, so the issue dropped. But Chairman George Pytel wanted to give the issue another hearing before the entire board.

Berkshire Drive resident Scott Smith was the first in the township to report a tree diagnosed with the fungus. He consulted with two tree services and the Penn State Cooperative Extension tested his tree. He’s now paying for removal of the diseased tree and treatment for the surrounding oaks.

On Monday the board voted 4-1 to proceed with a study, basically, of Ferguson’s portion of Park Forest. Patton Township already has a program in place to mitigate the fungus, and most trees were removed from the area of, ironically, Oakley Drive.

Supervisor Dick Mascolo opposed, sticking to his previous position that the township should not seek to subsidize treatment of those trees.

The board asked Manager Mark Kunkle to determine the cost of such a study, and he said he hopes to have that for the Oct. 7 meeting.

It’s unknown if some other oak trees removed from Smith’s neighborhood had oak wilt, but Smith said Monday that it’s possible. Three other trees removed in the past few years were not tested.

Supervisor Bill Keough asked why the township doesn’t also consider funding treatment for and removal of elm, ash and hemlock trees, which all also suffer from the affects of insects and diseases.

“They’re taken down because there’s nothing they can do to cure them,” Pytel said. “On these, we have a chance of saving the oaks and keeping it from spreading.”

Borough calls for hearing

Following in the footsteps of Ferguson, the State College Borough Council on Monday by voting to call for a state Department of Environmental Protection public hearing on the conversion of Penn State’s West Campus steam plant from coal to natural gas.

The public comment period for the project has ended, but a 30-day comment period for area municipalities began in late August.

Earlier this month Ferguson Township voted to request a hearing, based on feedback from residents.

The borough approved doing the same, and also requesting that the hearing be in the State College area.

The vote also included borough staff’s recommendation that council’s comments ask DEP to review air quality issues related to the height of the plant’s stacks and “any other potential environmental hazards” to ensure the project results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Jessica VanderKolk writes this weekly column featuring news from the Centre Region. Contact her at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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