By Kristin Bednarski
Officials with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service held an informational forum Feb. 11 to answer questions about the revised environmental assessment that was released Jan. 16.
Rhonda Santos, public information officer for USDA-APHIS, said the forum was designed so that members of the community could speak with officials and ask questions about the revised assessment, which details continued Asian longhorned beetle eradication efforts in Clermont County.
“It’s an opportunity for folks to come in and talk to experts about the preferred alternative and specifics of the revised environmental assessment,” Santos said.
Santos said officials from USDA-APHIS, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources were on hand to talk with residents.
She said there was informational stations with individuals discussing the revised assessment, explaining the chemical treatment process, highlighting re-planting efforts, an opportunity to comment, and more.
More than 40 residents from throughout the county and beyond attended the forum.
“I think it’s marvelous that they are offering this kind of education,” Nancy Martin, an Anderson Township resident, said.
Martin, who also owns property in Batavia, said she came to the forum to get more information and find out what she can do to protect the trees on her Batavia property.
“They are not only providing information, but they have beetles and tree infestation evidence,” Martin said about the forum. “And I get to talk to experts from the state.”
Martin said she picked up additional resources to give to people and post in her community.
Tamara O’Brien, a Bethel resident, said she also came to the forum to get more information, however she has already been dramatically affected by the beetle.
“I’m in ground zero,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said she has already had around 1,000 infested trees removed from her property, and now is concerned about protecting the remaining trees.
O’Brien said she came to the forum with questions about if those trees will be protected because they are considered to be in an estuary.
“It was helpful in that a few confusing points were addressed,” O’Brien said about the forum. “There is still so much unanswered that will be addressed in comments.”
O’Brien said she encourages everyone to comment about their concerns as well as their experience with the infestation.
“They cut the first tree down last year,” O’Brien said about the eradication on her property. “I just cried my eyes out. My kids used to play in that tree. It’s those trees people need to comment about.”
Dr. Robert Baca, Environmental Compliance with the USDA-APHIS, talked with residents about the assessment at the forum and also encouraged them to comment.
“That’s what this process is about,” Baca said. “We take public comment very seriously. This revised assessment shows that.”
Baca said he hopes people in the community will see that the eradication program can be a partnership between residents and the USDA-APHIS.
He said anyone can comment on the revised environmental assessment, they don’t have to live in Bethel or Clermont County.
“Tell us what we’re missing, what science is not there and what is unique about your area,” Baca said.
The public comment period for the revised environmental assessment is open until Feb. 16.
The revised environmental assessment is available at www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/ea/alb.shtml .
There is also a question and answer fact sheet about the revised assessment available on the website.
Paper copies of the environmental assessment can be obtained by contacting Robyn Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at USDA/APHIS/PPQ, ALB Eradication Program, 4700 River Road, Unit 137, Riverdale MD 20737.
Comments about the environmental assessment can be sent to Robyn Rose via email or by mail.
More information about the Asian longhorned beetle, and links to the environmental assessment documents, can be found at www.beetlebusters.info.