Avella forum faults Million Trees NYC

Avella forum faults Million Trees NYC
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

More than 800,000 trees later, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) still has not let up in his ongoing critique of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Million Tree NYC initiative.

The senator has been consistently opposed to the city’s plans to plant new trees while he contends it was having enough trouble maintaining those already deeply rooted in the borough. He hosted a Senate public forum early last week to shed more light on his cause to refocus city policy toward maintenance.

“The fact that the mayor keeps planting these trees despite the city’s clear inability to take care of the trees it already has is mind-boggling,” Avella said. “That is why I held a public forum, to try and address the many problems with the city’s tree policies.”

Bloomberg’s Million Tree NYC initiative was established years ago to revitalize the city and help combat climate change, but Avella argued that could only be accomplished with an efficient maintenance policy already in place.

At his public forum — the first of its kind — Avella said he and his Senate colleagues mulled over possible tree solutions. He said he was considering legislative action to combat an increasing number of city tree incidents resulting in injuries or death.

Earlier this year, a tree fell on a woman sitting on a bench in Flushing’s Cunningham Park, ultimately killing her. The trunk of the 50-foot oak broke off about 8 feet from the ground and crushed 30-year-old Ying Ti Li, but was not affiliated with Million Trees, police said.

There was no number to determine exactly how many of the city’s new trees under the Million Tree umbrella were responsible for endangering residents, the city Parks Department said.

Mike Castellano, first vice president of the northeast Queens Lost Community Civic, joined with Avella earlier this year to protest the city’s tree policies after noticing how ailing trees were leading to sidewalk and sewer damage for homeowners.

“A lot of the trees that the city has planted have surface roots,” Castellano said. “In my neighborhood, I have sidewalks that have been lifted up because the trees they planted. The roots are very much at the surface and they are lifting up sidewalks. As a result, the homeowner is going to get a violation for that.”

Along with Senate officials, Avella said Parks Department reps, park advocates, arborists and civic leaders provided testimony looking into the city’s tree policies and their effect on other environmental concerns. And with Bloomberg’s reign soon to be over and a new administration coming in under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Avella said he hoped to start a new dialogue looking into how the city could keep its trees standing.

“It is clear from the testimony that there is a lot of frustration throughout the city in regards to the city’s various tree policies,” Avella said. “However, the forum is only a start and I look forward to continuing this dialogue with this and the new administration. If we take better care of our trees, the potential damages to life and property will be significantly reduced.”

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