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Avella gets tough on trees

State Sen. Tony Avella (c.) joins with residents of northeast Queens to demand reform to the city Parks Department's management of trees in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Even before Hurricane Sandy, Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich said his group maintained a running list of ailing trees in his part of northeast Queens, but to no avail.

According to Friedrich, the Glen Oaks tree-trimming laundry list went virtually unnoticed when presented to the city Parks Department despite warnings about roughly 50 unhealthy trees.

By the time Superstorm Sandy swept through his streets, Friedrich said almost half of the already problematic trees had toppled down from the intense wind and rain.

“Had those trees been pruned, they wouldn’t have come down so easily,” Friedrich said. “The city is basically ignoring the pleas of northeast Queens communities.”

In front of uprooted sidewalk plots where trees once stood and homes with missing roof shingles, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) joined civic leaders and homeowners in Floral Park last Thursday to blast the Parks Department for neglecting homeowners’ requests and failing to maintain its trees.

“One of the biggest problems residents had to deal with in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was downed trees,” Avella said. “It is extremely unfortunate that many of the downed trees that either fell on homes or blocked streets are the same trees that constituents have been calling on the city to remove for years.”

Avella said a changing climate has forced the city’s hand in committing to new policies involving tree damage, stump removal and the placement of new trees. The senator had held a news conference on the subject in July 2011 and said things have not gotten any better this year.

To expedite progress, Avella said he developed his own plan, which included calling on the formation of a tree policy review committee to evaluate tree maintenance and to put an immediate temporary halt to the city’s Million Tree Planting program until new rules and procedures are installed.

“This just further illustrates what I have been saying for years as a former City Council member and now state senator — the city needs to do a far better job at maintaining the trees that are already planted before planting a million more,” Avella said. “Going forward, there needs to be a concrete plan in place to address this serious problem.”

Avella said the city was rushing to fulfill its million trees commitment without proper planning, which has resulted in trees being planted in inappropriate or poor locations.

Friedrich proposed that the city consider allowing residents to maintain trees in front of their homes, regardless of whether the trees were city-owned. Even in Glen Oaks, Friedrich said his group tried striking a deal with the city in which they would hire their own tree pruners for which they could be reimbursed. The city, however, would not sign on, Friedrich said.

“I am certain that many of those downed trees from Sandy would have been maintained by homeowners if they were allowed,” Friedrich said. “The time has come for the city to step up.”

Avella said he hoped the city would amend its current policies and consider his new proposals, which also included purchasing new tree maintenance equipment, eliminating an existing policy that bars the removal of live trees, and establishing a shelf life for various tree species throughout the city.

“People’s lives are in danger as a result of the city’s tree policies,” Avella said. “If we take better care of our trees, the potential damages to life and property during such storms as Sandy will be significantly reduced. The time for action is now.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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