52,000 dead trees in Q.C. area to be removed - East Valley Tribune: News

52,000 dead trees in Q.C. area to be removed

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Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:51 pm | Updated: 1:40 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The state will pay roughly $500,000 to take out thousands of dead citrus trees in San Tan Valley left abandoned by a business sometime around late 2006.

Arizona State Land Department officials said workers will remove 52,000 trees on 688 acres of land near Roberts Road and Hunt Highway.

The 30-day project will involve the combined efforts of numerous state departments including the Department of Administration's Division of Risk Management and the Division of Forestry. Work will start in the last week of December.

"It's believed that it's a fire hazard to the neighbors in the area, and that's why they're being removed," said Vanessa Hickman, deputy commissioner in the land department.

Pinal County's Environmental Health Department has received a handful of calls complaining about insects in the grove over the past few years, said county spokeswoman Heather Murphy.

"From (the county's) perspective, the insect complaints are definitely trumped by the fact that a fire hazard is going to be mitigated by the removal of these trees," Murphy said.

Hickman said she doesn't know how many people live in the area.

The orchard had been leased by a company called Empire Farms, which was unreachable for comment.

Hickman said she thinks the property was in default in 2006, and the state canceled the lease that December.

It's unclear if the company will have to help pay for the removal.

The state's Division of Risk Management is paying the cost, she said.

"Overall, this is a good thing," she said. "I mean, we're getting rid of 52,000 dead trees, so I think this is something that the area residents should be excited about."

Alan Ecker, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, which oversees Risk Management, said he doesn't know if the company is obligated to help pay for the removal or if the state will try to recover its costs.

Ecker said the total cost of the project will be about $500,000.

The department set up an information line to disseminate information on the monthlong project. The number is (602) 364-2753.

Tribune writer Amanda Keim contributed to this report  

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