A Nassau County Department of Public Works project to remove hundreds of trees across Syosset, Plainview, Hicksville and Bethpage has some residents chopping mad.
Michael Martino, spokesman for the department, said the County is removing these trees — close to 200 lining county and state roadways from Jericho Turnpike in Syosset to the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Bethpage — in order to improve sidewalk safety.
“The county is on notice to fix the sidewalks. The county has to act fast,” said Martino, referring to why there were no public forums held discussing the project. “Anyone who has walked up and down South Oyster Bay Road in Plainview sees how treacherous the sidewalks can be.”
In an effort to inform residents, Martino said the department has personally visited homeowners directly affected by the tree removals, explaining the project and why it needs to be done.
In the letter, Martino states that trees must be removed during road and sidewalk reconstruction because “during reconstruction of the sidewalks and curbs, the root system of the many existing trees along South Oyster Bay Road will be severely damaged. Damaged or insufficient root systems lead to weakened trees of which many will eventually die. This will pose a serious safety risk for anyone in close proximity to the tree.”
The county has already removed more than twenty decades-old trees reaching 30 feet or higher from around the Plainview Shopping Centre and along South Oyster Bay Road. Hicksville native Tanya Lukasik, who recently founded Operation STOMP (Save Trees Over More Pavement), said the community deserves to have an opportunity to provide input and perspective to a project of this size.
“The fact that we have to put this organization together in order to get the word out is an atrocity,” said Lukasik, who added that the County put out bids for the project in June and began removing trees on Sept. 11. “Entire neighborhoods should have input into this project. This blatant destruction without informing the community is suspect and disheartening.”
Click here to view a petition to save the trees.
Lukasik said the scale of the project does not jive with the supposed need for sidewalk repair. She walked the entire 4.4-mile stretch and said the project should be reduced to spot repairs where the sidewalk is in dire need of care. Instead, Lukasik said, trees one after another are marked for destruction with a large white X.
“These trees are being senselessly removed and it impacts me on a personal level, but also on an environmental level,” she said, adding that the community in Seaford was dealt a similar blow when nearly 200 old oak trees along Seamans Neck Road were chopped down in August. “Along South Oyster Bay Road, the trees create a canopy and really bring that boulevard feel. With the trees gone, that will never be the same again.”
Martino said the Public Works department will plant replacement trees in the next planting season, which would be a full year from now, as planting season for trees is typically in the fall.
“The county understands how important trees are to the aesthetic of the community and it explored every option before moving forward with this project,” said Martino. “The sidewalks are being lifted so the trees have to be removed. But there is a replanting program in place.”
However, the trees being removed will not be replaced with species that achieve the majestic 30- and 40-foot spreads firmly in place now. Martino said smaller trees with shorter roots will be planted, in order to facilitate maintenance of the new sidewalks. Lukasik said these new treelings will never measure up.
“They will never replace those trees, like the one by Starbucks at Woodbury and South Oyster Bay roads,” she said. “A lot of county roads need love; the proactive thing to do is to involve the community, not just bulldoze the trees.”
Legislator Judy Jacobs said that while she would not have been opposed to a more open process, including a public forum, she believes the Public Works department is acting in the best interest of the community.
“This is a project that is needed very badly,” she said. “We have received complaints galore over a number of years that the streets are in horrible disrepair, that the sidewalks are lifting, that people cannot walk. I do not think the County is setting out to destroy South Oyster Bay Road, I think it is simply responding to residents’ complaints.”
Jacobs said she is always one to prefer community input, but when she also believes when a County department is put to task to fix a problem, they have to act.
“The civic part of me says, ‘have a meeting, take your lumps, hear from the people, then do what needs to be done,’” she said. “What the department did is second best, they informed the homeowners would be directly involved. These trees are a symbol of beauty, and there is no argument there. They were planted many years ago with good intention, but there is now a question of safety.”