Leave it to them

Brush piles rankle some city residents

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  A perceived greening of Elizabethton does not denote positive environmental stewardship for some city residents.
  Shelby Miller, a former council member and Eagle Drive resident, chastised the city at Thursday night's City Council meeting for the amount of tree limbs and brush lying uncollected on property and along city streets.
  "There is brush on every street in Elizabethton," Miller told council members Thursday night. "You're going to have hedges as high as stop signs."
  A possible cause of the brush pile up is citizens not disposing of brush for fear they could be facing a charge no matter the amount of brush left out for collection. City Council passed an ordinance in December of 2003 setting a fee of $32 per ton to residents who request a city brush truck pick up shrubbery debris. Commercial landscaping companies that often deposited tree branches and undergrowth in city rights-of-way for public works crews to collect prompted the surcharge, according to city officials.
  Miller stated some citizens might not have the means to have brush carried away under the new fee system. "Those are the kinds of things that will not get you elected," he told the council.
  City Manager Charles Stahl told Miller the fee only applied if brush collection equaled one trailer load - roughly two tons - of brush. The fee took effect March 1. Street department crews reported collecting more than 43 tons during that month.
  "We don't pick (brush) up in a commercial zone or that done by commercial brush trucks," Stahl said Thursday night. "When you're getting up to two tons of debris, you probably had help in cutting it down."
  Disposal of collected brush had cost the city in excess of $50,000 last year. The city's finance department estimated the city's cost for disposal at Iris Glen landfill in Johnson City would increase roughly $40,000 this year.
  A thunderstorm swept strong winds through the city two weeks ago, felling scores of trees branches, aerial utility lines and at least four electrical poles around town. The former Paty Lumber building on East Elk Avenue lost its roof in the storm. The building, most recently home to the East Tennessee Motorsports business, also experienced vegetation growth around the building that resulted in city officials requesting the property's realty company cut the vegetation around the building.
  The Mill Race area of Elizabethton has also seen its share of vegetation overgrowth problems in recent months. A portion of the city's Linear Path recreation trail project extends from Broad Street through Mill Race. Some residents of the neighborhood have been concerned about flooding problems in the neighborhood occurring during storms which bring heavy rainfall and frequent overgrowth on public rights-of-way.
  The city secured state funding through the Recreation Trails Program grant administered through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The grant will fund section five, phase B of the Linear Path trail through the Mill Race area.
  The grant expired in February before the contractor completed the project, however. City Council members appropriated $17,000 in April to fund remaining work on the Mill Race portion of the project.
  Brush and high vegetation can become breeding grounds for unwanted life forms.
  The specter of West Nile virus (WNV) returns this summer as one of several mosquito-borne viruses in the United States that can infect people. The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reported Thursday that the first case of West Nile virus in Tennessee this year had been found in a horse infected in Fayette County. The horse, which was not vaccinated, subsequently died.
  Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds and can then transmit West Nile virus to humans and horses through mosquito bites. The virus ranks as a category one, the highest-level of diseases requiring immediate notification to a county's health officials when first detected. Infection rates for the virus soared across Tennessee in 2002, but declined last year.
  State health officials said it is difficult to predict how severely West Nile virus will hit the state this year, but would expect to see around the same number of human cases as the past two years - about 30 to 60. Health officials advise using mosquito repellent containing DEET and eliminating trash and debris around homes and businesses where stagnant water can develop mosquito larvae.