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Parks group cries foul over city chopping down nine boro trees

Workers stuff recently bloomed cherry blossom trees into a woodchipper behind Queens Borough Hall. Park Advocates is calling for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to provide proof the trees were diseased. Photo courtesy NYC Parks Advocates
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services said a fungal disease prompted the removal of nine cherry blossom trees behind Borough Hall, but one group claims the landscape leveling was an unnecessary Queens chainsaw massacre.

New York City Park Advocates, a nonprofit watchdog group involved in improving city parks, said neither DCAS nor the landscaping firm hired for the job has provided sufficient evidence illustrating the urgent need to remove the trees, which were in full bloom, in Kew Gardens April 3.

Geoffrey Croft, a Park Advocates representative, said his organization is seeking documents that back up the claims of disease. He said Parks Advocates asked DCAS to provide a Tree Health Assessment report, completed either in-house or by an independent consulting arborist.

While DCAS said it had consulted with an arborist, Croft wonders why the department will not provide documentation for review or the name of the arborist.

“I’m happy these issues are coming to light,” said Croft, adding that of the nine chopped trees, only one displayed signs of root rot, a disease devastating enough to warrant immediate removal. “The care of trees, or lack thereof, in many city construction projects have had serious impacts and need to be addressed.”

DCAS representative Julianne Cho said while preparing to begin construction on a $21 million atrium project, a city assessment of the trees found that nine were diseased and necessitated removal.

“As part of the project preparation, an arborist visited the site in 2009 and found that some of the trees had fungal and bacterial diseases. Another landscape architect confirmed that assessment in 2012,” Cho said in an e-mail to Croft.

Calls to Cho at DCAS and the landscaping firm Abel Bainnson Butz LLP requesting the arborist’s report were not returned.

“It is our belief that DCAS did not do their due diligence in assessing these trees,” said Croft. “If these trees were diseased and we are going to discuss pathogens, then DCAS should have sent samples to a lab. I can almost guarantee that nothing was sent to a lab, so how thorough can this thing be?”

A representative from Borough President Helen Marshall’s office said they are currently reviewing a report from a DCAS-hired arborist, but could not provide a copy of the report or the name of the arborist. Instead, the office referred requests for such information to the landscaping firm, Abel Bainnson Butz LLP, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Marshall’s representative also said the city will plant a new grove of trees and bushes after the one-year construction project is completed. When completed, the atrium will provide space for meetings and cultural events, according to Marshall’s office.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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