By Rebecca Henely
Tensions have been high between Amtrak and residents of Boulevard Gardens in Woodside ever since the railroad company cut down a number of trees along the tracks in the neighborhood, but Amtrak’s recent promise to hire an arborist to replace the lost trees has made both sides feel as if an equitable solution is on the way.
“That was a good step toward repairing the harm that they’ve done,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the trees in Woodside were taken down as part of a $30 million, companywide tree-cutting from Boston to Washington, D.C., funded by the federal government’s economic stimulus package. The project had been planned for years — its aim to prevent tree limbs from falling onto the tracks and disrupting the signal system — but Amtrak had not been able to fund it until the stimulus.
Cole said “any and all trees” that are “on Amtrak’s right-of-way up to and including 25 feet from the closest high-voltage line” are being cut down. Removing trees in Queens began in early May.
But Vallone said Amtrak did not inform residents in advance that the trees, many of which had been around for decades, would be removed.
“It was just destroyed with no community notice,” Vallone said. “[Residents] had a beautiful backyard and a sound buffer and now they’re staring at old tires and train tracks.”
Jimmy Lanza, 64, a former board president of Boulevard Gardens at 31st Avenue in Woodside, ï»¿and a resident of the area for decades, said neighbors started coming to him as soon as it happened. He and others worked to contact Vallone and other politicians as well as members of the media.
Amtrak “came and wiped out the neighborhood within three days,” Lanza said.
After the initial removal on one side of the tracks, residents thought the project was done, but not long after trees were cut along the other side.
Vallone called this an “outrage.” He said the trees act as an aesthetic and sound buffer in the neighborhood and he was particularly critical of the fact that no environmental impact study had been done.
“We say there were trees destroyed far away from the track, which posed no danger,” he said.
Cole said the tree removal has progressed according to schedule, and some noise should be expected.
“There’s nothing new about trains going through the area,” he said.
He also said Amtrak went through the proper regulatory process before beginning the tree cutting and that the process did not require Amtrak do an environmental impact study.
Nevertheless, Amtrak met with area residents about the tree removal Friday. Cole said on that day that Amtrak admitted it had not communicated the initial tree removal to residents. The company also promised to hire a landscape artist who would replace the lost trees with low-lying shrubs and some replanting and refencing where appropriate.
Lanza said the residents have researched trees to replace those removed that are safe and will not require any maintenance on the part of Amtrak.
He said he is seeing Amtrak make some changes promised, such as removing the debris from the project. He is confident the community can find a compromise by using the arborist.
“It’s probably going to be acceptable to the majority of the community,” Lanza said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.