AUGUSTA — City councilors were told Thursday the city can beat back an infestation of beetle grubs that is eating away much of the grass of Augusta from the roots up, leaving behind large, brown, barren patches of ground where once there were grassy lawns.

Experts said a combination of pesticide treatment, changes to the variety of grass being planted, and changes to how some areas are managed can kill off an infestation of what they believe to be grubs that later grow into European chafer beetles and Japanese beetles.

“Can we win this war?” Mayor David Rollins, who previously has said the expanses of lawns and fields in the city that have been turned into barren ground or riddled with weeds and crabgrass leave a bad impression of the city, asked of two turf company representatives.

“You absolutely can win this,” responded Frank Windle, of Hermon-based PA Lyford, which does business as Trugreen.

City Manager William Bridgeo said pesticides would not be used on public property where children regularly play on the grass.

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, said the city’s current policy is to use pesticides only on a limited basis.

Dahlin said he’s never seen destruction of lawns on such a large scale.

He said the grass is being eaten by grubs, the larval form of what will become beetles after emerging from the ground, which eat the roots and kill grass.

The appearance of affected lawns can be made even worse as crows come and pick at the turf to dig up grubs to eat.

Prominent spots in the city left either barren and brown or with weeds and crabgrass in place of the killed-off grass include the ground immediately surrounding the “Welcome to Augusta” sign that greets visitors to the city’s downtown, much of the lawn around Augusta City Center and Old Fort Western, athletic fields, cemeteries, both in-town rotaries, and parks across the city.

The solution could involve the use of chemical insecticides to kill off the grubs, and hydro-seeding to replace the many acres of dead grass now covering numerous city properties.

Windle and Gary Fish, the state horticulturist who said he was at Thursday’s meeting only as a resident of Augusta, said other steps can help, too.

Windle said beetles like sunny, dry slopes to lay their eggs in, and some are also attracted to lights.

“So, with lighting in parks, you’re drawing them in, essentially,” he said. “Certain beetles like certain plants. If those are there, and if there is a nice dry slope there, then you have an infestation.”

Fish said nematodes, microscopic worms, also can be used to kill grubs.

He said probably four varieties of beetles are infesting the grass, with European chafers likely the biggest problem.

He said Dahlin’s suggested approach, of treating areas based upon their priority, is the way to go.

He also said that when areas are reseeded, there are varieties of grass, especially tall fescue, that are more resistant to grubs than other grasses.

Dahlin said whether the city should use insecticide to kill the pests is a policy question, as is the matter of how much money to dedicate to the grub fight, both issues on which city staff would take direction from the Augusta City Council. He said city policy is to minimize the use of insecticides.

Currently there is no money in the city budget specifically meant to tackle the grub problem, though $25,000 was added to the parks’ budget this year for beautification, which could be put toward taking on the grubs and restoring lawns.

Dahlin, assigned the task of determining how widespread the problem is and how it might be addressed, estimated it could require an initial budget of $100,000, not including school grounds, and require a multi-year effort, to kill off grubs and, in the program’s first year, repair and replace damaged turf including hydro-seeding of new grass seed. He said the $100,000 figure is a “worst case” scenario. He said an ongoing “weed and feed” program is recommended for high-priority areas annually. He said it could take at least two years to see enough program before a grub control program could be scaled back to a more modest approach.

He estimated of the 378 acres of grass in city parks, cemeteries and on other city and school properties, 142 acres could be considered for a grub treatment program, and 25 of those acres could need to be re-seeded.

Councilors did not vote whether to attack the problem at Thursday’s informational meeting. Bridgeo said the city staff would form a plan to address the problem and bring it back for councilors to review and decide what action to take, if any.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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