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Avella opposes mayor’s Million Trees effort

TimesLedger Newspapers

A northeast Queens lawmaker has planted a thorn in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s agenda, proposing to put a halt to the city’s Million Trees project.

In a letter to the mayor, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) criticized the city’s maintenance of trees already rooted in the borough, using Hurricane Sandy as a primary example.

“It was clearly evident from Hurricane Sandy that most of the damage, other than direct flooding, was the cause of downed city trees,” Avella said in the letter. “As you should know, the fallen trees caused fatalities, severe damages to homes and property, as well as causing a significant portion of the power outages.”

Avella held a press conference in Floral Park earlier this month on a suburban street where he said unkept trees were most evident after the storm. Community leaders rallied around the senator, adding that they would like more of a say in the upkeep of trees directly affecting their homes in events such as Superstorm Sandy.

After meeting with homeowners throughout the region, the state senator said he compiled a list of recommendations for the city Parks Department to reform how it manages its green.

“Almost every homeowner I spoke to with tree damage indicated that they had been trying to get the city to remove or prune the tree for years,” Avella said.

The Parks Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Of those recommendations, Avella said the city must act immediately to put a halt on its Million Trees project, which aims to plant 1 million new trees throughout the city over the next decade — 500,000 of which were designated for Queens. The project has already planted more than 640,000 trees, according to its website, with more than 126,500 of them already in Queens.

“It is outrageous that the city continues the policy goal of planting a million trees while there is a clear inability to properly maintain the trees that are currently planted,” Avella said.

In his letter to the mayor, Avella suggested that the city allow homeowners to prune trees in front of their home, regardless of whether or not they belong to the city. He also recommended that more funding should be allocated toward stump removal and tree pruning throughout the five boroughs.

Additionally, the senator proposed the city form a tree policy review committee with independent arborists who would oversee tree maintenance.

“The city needs to do a far better job at maintaining the trees that are already planted,” Avella said. “Going forward, there needs to be a concrete plan in place to address this serious problem.”

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

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