Photo by Mark Hallum
Fresh Meadows resident John Amato disputes city Parks Department assessments of trees showing signs of decline.
By Mark Hallum

A Fresh Meadows man is advocating for better maintenance and removal of trees under the purview of the city Department of Parks and Recreation by highlighting individual trees which lean at dramatic angles and showing signs of decline.

John Amato has pointed out trees from Bayside to Fresh Meadows around Kissena Park that he claims could take down power lines and endanger buildings during inclement weather. Amato expressed hope that Parks receives the funds to perform more tree maintenance.

Two trees around 213th Street and 33rd Road, both of which lean, have worked their way into space occupied by Con Ed power lines and one of them already has a work order through Parks to be removed since it was given a “C” rating for health. According to Amato, the loose bark on this tree indicates poor health as well as the fact lichen are forming in the small cracks at the base of the trunk.

According to Parks, trees are rated for removal priority on an “A” through “D” designation, with “A” having the highest priority to be removed first.

“We conduct tens of thousands of inspection on our trees every year,” Parks said in a letter to state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in May. “Our inspectors are urban forestry professionals, many of whom have advanced certifications from the International Society of Arboriculture. We inspect street trees and trees in parks by request from members of the public and our staff as well as through our routine block pruning program.”

Amato believes the city’s tree population needs to be cared for as it ages and the Parks Department is not reacting quickly enough to trees that could pose a risk to the human population. But he does not blame Parks completely for slow assessments and lag time for the completion of work orders. It boils down to resources, according to Amato.

“Commissioner [Mitchell] Silver and his borough commissioners need to make it very clear to the City Council that they need additional funding,” Amato said. “We only have about 100 inspectors for this borough. Now they do a good job, mind you, but they have a tremendous task here. They need at least another 200 for Queens alone.”

Two oak trees on 164th Street along with one on the eastern edge of Kissena Park were also found to lean over the road, which Parks told Amato is from the trees positioning themselves to collect more sunlight.

A Norway maple at 167-04 67th Ave. features a large hole with a hollow portion of its trunk, which Amato said could possibly house animals such as raccoons. Amato also pointed out several others around Holy Family Convent at 175-11 75th Ave., one of which has bark that is turning black and others which could interfere with power lines.

Avella has taken a less gentle approach to prompting a better response to tree complaints, however.

At a March news conference, Avella said Parks’ response to a list of complaints involving about 1,200 trees was a “dereliction of duty.”

“I’m almost at a loss for words at how disgraceful this response was,” Avella said at the news conference. “For them to completely ignore an elected official’s complaints is absurd. God forbid one of these trees, which have now been reported to them as problematic, injure someone or damage property. The mayor and the Parks commissioner will be personally responsible.”

Parks spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said that the letter the agency sent to Avella was its response to the first 65 letters out of 1,250 homeowner complaints to his office and that they will continue to respond.

“Calling 311 routes tree service requests directly to Parks foresters,” she said. “It is the most efficient and effective way to address tree issues.”

Amato said he is not a forestry expert, though he is an enthusiast who has taken classes, and respects the determinations of Parks staff while disagreeing with their process of managing trees.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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