BY JAMES FARRELL
Branches touching power lines. Trees leaning at precarious angles near elementary schools. Honey locusts that shed branches during bouts of wind. John Amato has seen it all.
The Queens resident has ventured tirelessly through northeast Queens’ streets, identifying trees that he believes create perilous risks to residents—and he said that he’s made more than 1,250 311 requests regarding city trees.
But his travels around the borough have made Amato concerned about how the city Parks Department handles tree-based requests. At a recent Community Board 8 meeting, the concerned resident—who doesn’t call himself an expert, but took forestry classes years ago—said that the Parks Department often deems some trees as healthy or not priorities for removal—even as Amato believes that there are obvious hazards.
“I’m sure they’re very capable and they know what they’re doing,” Amato said of the agency’s forestry team. “But even they can make mistakes.”
The Parks Department defended its system—in an email, spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said that its forestry inspections “are done by professionals” who must become certified arborists. The department also follows tree assessment protocols set by International Society of Arborculture and the American National Standards Institute.
One of Amato’s biggest concerns is at the corner of 213th Street and 33rd Road in Bayside, where a tree leans drastically over 33rd Road and hovers inches above power lines. By the base of the tree, roots are beginning to show. But Parks said that the tree was inspected on Dec. 5 and found to be in good condition with no work needed.
“This is not the natural lean of a tree,” Amato said. “I agree with the statement that the inspectors say that the tree is healthy—it is a healthy trunk, it definitely is. But I don’t agree with the rating they gave this thing because this thing is top heavy.”
Lalor told the Queens Tribune that, as a rule, Parks couldn’t prune trees around power lines “because of safety concerns around high-voltage power lines,” adding that residents should contact their power utility company “as they are under permit from Parks to handle these conditions.”
Down the block, on the corner of 212th Street and 33rd Avenue, is another one of Amato’s areas of concerns—but he isn’t the only one who is worried. Monica Draper, who lives in the area, said that she is also nervous about the tree on the corner, which is leaning toward the street with roots tearing up the sidewalk and protruding from the ground. Parks has also decided that there is no work necessary for the tree.
Draper said that, years earlier, she and other neighbors filed complaints about a similar tree a few dozen feet away from the one about which Amato is concerned. That tree was also left untouched—until the 2010 tornadoes that hit Brooklyn and Queens sent it through the roof of her house.
Draper said that this tree is leaning even more than the previous one.
“I’m worried about this tree causing me the exact same problems,” she said. “Ultimately, I had to pay to get the [previous] tree removed from my house because no one came to help me with it.”
But Parks believes that the tree is safe—an inspector came to the location on Dec. 4 and found the tree to be in good condition and with no hazardous lean, the agency said. Parks found that no work was needed.
“A leaning tree does not automatically indicate poor health,” the agency said in a statement. ”Phototropic leaning is a naturally occurring event where trees lean toward the light. Our certified arborists look for structural conditions of a tree that may lead to failure, including broken or hanging branches, cracks in trunk or branches, or dead or dying parts of the tree.”
Parks added that it has communicated with Amato and will continue to do so.