By Kristin Bednarski
Members of the Bethel Asian Longhorned Beetle Citizens’ Cooperative, a local citizens advocacy group, hosted a town hall meeting Jan. 29 at Grant Career Center in Bethel.
The meeting was designed to update the public on the recently issued revised environmental assessment released by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Jan. 16.
Bill Skvarla, member of the cooperative who found the Asian longhorned beetle on his farm in 2011, thanked residents for being there and also for commenting on the original assessment.
Skvarla said community members submitted more than 200 comments on the original environmental assessment that was released in May of 2012.
The original assessment listed several alternatives for continued eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle in the Clermont County area including removal of high risk host trees, chemical treatment of high risk host trees, and a combination of removal and chemical treatment.
The revised assessment provides additional research and information, along with a preferred alternative for continued eradication.
“The most important changes in the revised EA is a preferred alternative,” Skvarla said. “It looks like we’re headed in a positive direction but please read carefully.”
Skvarla said the preferred alternative is a combination of imidacloprid chemical treatment of high risk host trees and removal of high risk host trees.
Skvarla said it appears that USDA-APHIS is going to give land owners the right to refuse healthy host tree removal on their land, but he said they do not address what happens if a land owner says ‘no,’ or how much will be done if a land owner gives consent.
“Basically what they are saying is they still hold the cards,” Skvarla said. “You can refuse, but they aren’t saying they will treat it instead.”
Skvarla said residents need to let USDA-APHIS know their concerts about the revised environmental assessment.
“The whole idea behind the gathering of the meeting is; please comment,” Skvarla said.
Skvarla said many of the comments people wrote about the original assessment were addressed at length in the revised environmental assessment.
He said it is important for residents to continue to show their preference for how they want continued eradication to be handled.
“I am calling on each one of you to comment again,” Skvarla said.
Nancy McCarthy, also a member of the cooperative, outlined the National Environmental Policy Act, and explained how the document can be used to help residents write compelling comments.
“The Environmental Assessment is mandated by NEPA,” McCarthy said. “Those people read comments and also consider the environment. They read our comments, they took our comments to heart.”
She explained that comments should explain social, cultural and physical affects of tree removal along with how the removals will impact economic and natural resources.
“Things as simple as the feeling you get walking through your woods has to be addressed,” McCarthy said. “When you comment, give every reason you can come up with why you want to save your trees.”
Doug Simmons, a member of the cooperative, also updated residents about the legal team. He said he spoke with attorney Brian O’Connell, with Dinsmore and Shohl, about the revised assessment.
“Brian’s initial impression is we should be optimistic,” Simmons said about the revised assessment.
Simmons said O’Connell’s main concerns were also about the right of refusal for land owners.
“We need to ask for a better explanation of what happens when we refuse,” Simmons said.
Councilman Brad Wenstrup also stopped by the meeting, and told members of the cooperative to keep communicating with USDA-APHIS and ODA officials.
“Your efforts don’t seem to be lost,” Wenstrup said. “Don’t stop.”
Skvarla concluded his presentation by announcing the informational forum that will be held by program officials with the USDA-APHIS and the ODA on Feb. 11 from 5-7 p.m.
“They’ve made an effort,” Skvarla said about the USDA hosting a forum to answer questions. “Let’s get together in front of them.”
For more information about the Bethel Asian Longhorned Beetle Citizens’ Cooperative visit www.bethelalb.com . To view the revised environmental assessment visit www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/ea/alb.shtml. For more information about the Asian longhorned beetle visit www.beetlebusters.info.