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The program the Rapid City Council uses to pay back landowners who cut down pine beetle-infested trees could face changes. 

Journal file

The Rapid City Council is considering a new plan for reimbursing landowners who cut down pine beetle-infested trees.

From January through March, the city reimbursed landowners $130,000 to hire private contractors to saw down beetle trees on private property within city limits.

The city provided free surveys for the landowners — the program cost $87,000 to administer, using six Parks Division employees and two seasonal employees — and then reimbursed them for 75 percent of the cost to get the trees chopped down.

The city has only cut trees on its property, at places like Dinosaur Park and Skyline Wilderness Area, Garner said.

"We provide the free service of surveying the trees and marking the infested trees," said Gary Garner, Rapid City's urban forester.

That amounted to 1,363 properties inspected, 351 of which had mountain pine beetle infestations. Of those, 227 landowners requested the cost share. With the money, 1,222 infested trees were cut down on city and private land.

Before the Parks & Recreation Department could ask to get the new plan approved, it needed to ensure it would still be funded. For that, the city council allocated $250,000 for the program just before it passed the city's 2013 budget last week.

Tuesday, the plan will go before the Public Works Committee. Garner thinks the plan changes will be positive.

"It'll be good for everyone. It will be good for the contractors. It will be good for us," Garner said. "It does place a little more burden on the landowners financially, but it will be less time consuming for them to know if they qualify for cost share."

Garner hopes to start marking trees as soon as Oct. 15.

As one of the improvements, Interim Parks & Recreation Director Lon Van Deusen is aiming for an improved record-keeping process to make sure that reimbursements are not cumbersome.

Some of the properties had complex ownership documentation, since they were held in trusts or by absentee landowners.

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"Some properties are held in trust and if that's the only information we had it was hard to issue a check addressed to a trust because then the individual property owner couldn't cash the check," Van Deusen said.

Garner wants to increase the percentage of people using the Internet to request surveys, since that's easier and less time consuming to process than telephone or postal requests.

About a third of requests this year came through the Internet.

This year, the city also kicked in mountain pine beetle money for the state's 50-50 fire suppression program. For that long-standing program, the state and the landowner split the cost of tree thinning and other work to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Rapid City covered 75 percent of the landowner's half, up to $1,000. The thinning work helps make an environment less suitable for pine beetle while reducing fire hazards. The city spent $28,000 on the 50-50 program this year.

Next year, the city will continue its contributions to the 50-50 program.

Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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