Queens lost more than 7,000 trees during Hurricane Sandy, and numerous more in the snowstorm the week after.
At the November meeting of the Queens Borough Board on Monday, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said 7,062 calls for fallen trees were recorded during and after the hurricane, far more than any other borough. But this is not surprising, she said, because Queens has the highest number of street trees.
Some residents and community leaders faulted the Parks Department’s, once-every-seven-years pruning policy for the tipped trees, claiming, they wouldn’t have succumbed to Sandy’s high winds if the branches weren’t so overgrown. But the agency refutes that assessment and notes that some trees in every community board are manicured each year.
Some 1,150 trees fell onto homes, mainly in Community Boards 11 and 13, which consist of Eastern and Northeastern Queens neighborhoods like Bayside, Douglaston, Floral Park, Bellerose and Cambria Heights. Many of those trees were large, Lewandowski said, and that caused significant damage.
About 21 trees remained on homes as of Monday night, she said. More than 1,000 more reports of fallen trees were called into 311 during the snowstorm that struck the borough on Nov. 7. In that storm, the early wet snow felled trees weakened by Hurricane Sandy.
“No tree, no matter how frequently pruned or carefully looked after, is immune to damage from hurricane-force winds,” an agency spokesman said in an email Monday. “The Parks Department takes extensive precautions to ensure that our trees are safe and well-maintained.”
There were 13,800 service requests for damaged trees boroughwide, after the hurricane and nor’easter, CB 13 District Manager Larry McClean said at the community board’s meeting on Monday, citing a Parks Department report. Of those, 2,810 were reported in CB 13.
“So for a borough of 14 community boards, our board called in 22 percent of the damaged trees, which shows you the extent that we had problems in this area,” McClean said. “I am not sure if that means a lot of our members and residents are more diligent in calling it in.”
In Brookville Park, 120 trees were damaged, McClean said, with another 40 damaged in Springfield Gardens Park.
On the Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy, McClean and board chairman Bryan Block drove from one end of the district to the other looking for downed trees that blocked streets or were leaning on power lines or houses. They turned in a three-page list of locations the next morning to the transportation and parks departments, as well as the Office of Emergency Management.
“We are happy to report that by Friday, 90 percent of those had been dealt with,” McClean said. “This was in part because the volume of calls so overwhelmed Con Ed and 311, that they hadn’t put together a list, and we already had a list.
Lewandowski said her department was working with the Department of Design and Construction to fix sidewalks that were pulled up by falling trees. While trees have been removed in many parts of the borough, stumps, broken sidewalks and power lines taken down by trees remain a problem. A snapped telephone pole on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and 107th Street in Richmond Hill remained on the ground as of Tuesday morning and cars coming down 107th Street were forced to drive over wires.
The remnants of fallen trees have been taken by dump truck to a number of sites in the borough, including the parking lots of the Seuffert Bandshell in Forest Park and Resorts World Casino New York City, as well as Cunningham Park, where they are being dumped before being turned to mulch.
Lewandowski said the department has not yet been able to assess how many trees were lost in city parks, and only began assessing that damage when the city streets were clear and opened – a process that took more than two weeks.
“We were able to have every street in Queens open to traffic by Nov. 14,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski told the borough board that the Parks Dept. has moved into a new phase in Hurricane Sandy recovery.
The damage to Rockaway Beach was catastrophic, she said, with much of the boardwalk completely destroyed, especially between Beach 87th and Beach 116th streets. She said much of the boardwalk in the eastern part of the peninsula survived, but with serious damage. All four of the department’s concession buildings along the boardwalk suffered severe damage. Lewandowski said she hopes to have them up and running by next summer, but warned the entire beach might not be ready to open by Memorial Day.
“There are some short-term things we’re concerned with and then we have long-term repairs,” she explained.
As for the sand that washed from the beaches onto the streets in Rockaway, Lewandowski said the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in projects to put the sand back on the beach, but she warned it was not that easy.
“We have to separate what is good sand and what is bad sand that could be contaminated by home heating oil or gas from cars,” she explained.
Good sand will be moved back onto the beach and that process has already begun while polluted sand would be set aside, cleaned and used on later Parks Dept. projects.
Though she didn’t broach the subject of the destroyed boardwalk, Lewandowski hinted that rebuilding it is a long-term project for the department. She noted her agency was in discussions to stripe bike lanes onto the boardwalk right before the hurricane. The beach’s lifeguard stations were also destroyed in the storm.