There’s a 20-foot sycamore tree on the curb in front of Carla Errico’s house on 90th Street in Howard Beach and Errico says it needs to go.
Most of the tree is bare. A few leaves are growing on a branch in the middle of the tree.
Worse yet, the tree is leaning toward the street precariously and a section of the grass between the sidewalk and the curb is lifting up. Errico said she has called 311 and asked for the tree to be removed and later followed up, discovering that the city Parks Department had come, but said the tree was still alive and they won’t remove it. Errico disagreed. “It’s dead,” she said. “I don’t want it to end up in my living room.”
Next door, another sycamore leans toward the sidewalk, similarly bare except for one or two branches.
The issue of leaning trees — and their condition, as well as the conditions of many other trees in the neighborhood — is the latest quarrel between Sandy survivors and the city as the recovery from last fall’s hurricane moves forward.
A block away from Errico, several tall sycamores, London planetrees, are completely bare. On the other side of the neighborhood on 99th Street, Gloria Aherns said she complained to the city about a 50-foot tree directly across the street from her home. The tree was submerged in at least 5 feet of water for more than six hours during the storm. It is completely bare, but similar trees around it have started growing leaves just this past week, Aherns said.
“I contacted the city and asked them to survey the trees in the area, but they said they don’t do surveys of neighborhoods,” she explained.
In March, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowksi said the agency would monitor trees in areas like Howard Beach and the Rockaways where salt water inundated the neighborhoods and plant life to see if trees survived.
Aherns said her block, which runs adjacent to Hawtree Creek, is constantly battered by strong winds during coastal storms and is concerned that if the tree is dead or weakened, it will fall in the next strong storm. “I just wish they would be more proactive,” she said.
A few blocks from Aherns’ home, a number of trees on 97th Street next to PS 146 lean over the road. They are growing out of an abnormally high curb and the concrete and asphalt surrounding the trees appears to be lifting up. The trees also are mostly or completely bare.
Aherns said she was told by a horticulturist that the trees may not be dead and may grow later in the spring, during the summer or next year.
“They may just be in shock,” she said. “But if they are dead or a danger, they should be removed.”
She added that the sycamore across the street from her house was one of three that were there until the city removed the others in the 1990s. They weren’t dead when they were removed, Aherns said.
Aherns and Errico were two of at least a dozen residents who contacted Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) to complain about the danger the trees may pose.
Angelica Katz, Goldfeder’s chief of staff, said DOT would send out an inspector to look at the sidewalk and if the tree is clearly causing the sidewalk to be lifted, their inspector will issue a notice of violation for which the resident won’t be billed.
The complaint would go through the Parks Department’s “trees and sidewalk” program first for the agency to assess the tree, for which the resident will receive a number from 1-10 based on how bad the tree is and its need for removal.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed local governments for removal of trees damaged by the storm, both by the storm surge and by wind farther inland. Goldfeder wants the city to push FEMA to fund such a plan here.
“Actions to address damaged and weakened trees must be taken now,” he said. “While homeowners continue to rebuild, I urge the Parks Dept. to work with federal partners to secure the funding and implement a program to remove dead trees and branches.”
Though many trees in Howard Beach are still bare, most did come back, but some — especially shrubs — died, including some of Errico’s own plants.
“I removed several shrubs from the front of my house that died,” she said, noting the storm surge reached as high as 4 feet in front of her home, located about three blocks from Shellbank Basin. Errico said she was certain the tree in front of her house was dead.
“It’s dead, it’s gone, they have to cut it down,” she insisted.