Residents of Southeast Queens are spreading the alarm over what they believe could be plans to cut down 700 or more trees in the Idlewild Park Preserve.
And the Eastern Queens Alliance, which will host a press conference on Friday to highlight its concerns, fears the trees are just the beginning.
In a statement, Barbara Brown, chairwoman of the EQA, said she fears ongoing negotiations between the city Department of Parks and Recreation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are just a prelude to the long-rumored relocation of Runway 4L-22R at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“Half the trees they claim are current hazards to aviation,” Brown said in her statement, dated April 20. “The other half they claim will need to be removed if the runway is to be extended.”
The Port Authority operates both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
Back in October, PA officials held a town meeting in Rosedale at which they discussed the relocation of the runway some 700 feet to the north, along with a new 500-foot-wide, 1,000-foot-long safety overrun zone at the northern end.
The PA is looking to accommodate larger, higher-capacity planes such as the Airbus A380. Residents fear not only the impact on their park, but on their neighborhoods as larger aircraft begin coming in lower over their homes than they already do.
“Why now? Why are over half the trees in question suddenly considered a hazard?” Brown asked.
She wrote that in more than a decade of civic involvement to preserve and restore Idlewild, the community in general and the EQA’s Idlewild Park Preservation Committee have never heard from city or PA officials about tree height.
“What [Federal Aviation Administration] criteria, rules or guidelines dictate that suddenly 395 trees are now too tall, or is it really the proposed runway extension driving the PANYNJ’s call for tree removal?” she asked.
Speaking Monday night at a meeting of Community Board 13, Joseph Block, the city’s new superintendent of parks for districts 11 and 13, said any fears for the trees are premature.
“Not all of those trees are going to have to be removed,” he said. “Some will just be topped. The city is currently in negotiations with the Port Authority, and they don’t have any permits to remove those trees yet.”
He said that coincidentally, there is a massive planting of 4,400 small trees at the park this weekend in a different section than the one at issue in city-PA discussions. Those are part of Mayor Bloomberg’s one million new trees initiative.
Bess De Betham, an Idlewild Park advocate and a member of CB 13, said she plans to attend Friday’s press conference.
“I’ll reserve judgement,” she said when asked about Block’s comments following Monday’s meeting.
Brown, in her statement, said if the trees are in fact too tall, it only goes to prove residents’ point that planes are already too low.
“How low can aircraft fly over our community without negatively impacting us?” she asked. “How low is too low? Is Idlewild considered just an extension of the JFK runways rather than the valuable ecological preserve that it is?”
She said the EQA will call on the PA to document its claims.
The press conference will be at 6 p.m. at the Idlewild Cricket Field at 223rd Street and 149th Avenue.