Construction at the Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park is harming 150-year-old trees there.
Along Vermont Place, construction for the “Ridgewood Reservoir Project,” which will provide new pathways, more handicap accessibility and lighting, as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC is underway, but with tools, machines and debris weighing on the ground, civic leaders and tree experts are worried what the arboreal effect will be.
“When soil gets compacted by machinery or heavy piles of material or even extreme foot traffic, it loses its structure,” said Morgan Potter, a horticulturalist with the Queens Botanical Garden. “Not only are the roots being squished, but they are losing the environment necessary for regrowth.”
As the work goes on, dozens of London plane trees are surrounded by a chain-link fence which sits directly on top of many of their root systems. Compacted soil prevents a tree’s roots from accessing nutrients from water and soil. But trees can take years to show signs of stress because they are such large organisms. That causes a major problem with construction projects because once building is finished the trees may appear normal.
“I can say with certainty that these trees will be negatively affected by this project,” Potter said. “Whether they succumb to the damage depends on their vigor and any measures taken to remedy the problems after the project is over.”
“The consequences may not be seen for years down the line,” local tree expert Carsten Glaeser said. “Trees are the largest organisms on the planet and I’ve seen this happen time after time. Whether it’s because of building developers constructing a building or a situation like this, it’s always the same and the tree eventually dies.”
The Parks Department responded by saying it is working on the issue and hopes it will be resolved soon.
“NYC Parks is currently working on a course of action at the Ridgewood Reservoir site involving tree protection, adding additional wood chips, pruning to the existing trees along the roadway, and decompaction within the construction area,” Phil Abrasmson, a Parks Department spokesman, said. “In order to build a required ramp, the contractor piled fill near trees along Vermont Place due to the tightness of the space, and we are processing a change order to decompact around those trees.”
The Parks Department could not say when those changes will go into effect.
Glaeser said that though the Parks Department is not always right, all city agencies get it wrong when it comes to tree care.
He also says that the solution does not involve programs such as MillionTreesNYC, the city initiative to plant and care for one million trees across the five boroughs over the next decade.
“We need to protect the trees we have have rather than planting new trees,” he said.
Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, agrees.
“Trees in the reservoir are a natural resource,” Holden said. “You can’t replace a 60- or 70-year-old tree. With pollution and air quality in recent years, the trees won’t even get that large.”