Comptroller Stringer’s audit confirms Bay Ridge residents’ woes regarding tree branch fallings

September 1, 2014 Jaime DeJesus
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They’re hanging on by a thread.

Over the past few months, Bay Ridgeites have worried about the poor condition of the area’s trees, with dangling and falling branches posing a threat. Then, on August 17, Comptroller Scott Stringer confirmed those fears by releasing an audit that reveals what he calls the mismanagement of New York City’s tree pruning program which currently runs on a 10-year cycle and potentially puts residents in danger.

“I’m not going out on a limb when I say that Parks’ performance has been unacceptable,” Stringer said. “Auditors found that borough forestry offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island were paying contractors for pruning the wrong trees, for pruning that was never done and were not keeping accurate lists of trees that were properly maintained. Taxpayers deserve better management of our city’s trees.”

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Bay Ridge residents, such as John Calabrese, witnessed such dangerous scenarios first hand this past summer. Calabrese, for instance spotted a sizable loose branch on July 3 that had recently fallen on the sidewalk at 78th Street and Colonial Road. No one was injured by the heavy branch, but the neighborhood has become all too accustomed to such close calls. On May 17, another branch fell, this time on top of a car parked on 87th Street between Colonial Road and Ridge Boulevard, causing damage to the back window of the vehicle.

Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, confirmed to this paper that residents are upset by the growing problem. “We’ve had a few branch fallings recently,” she said. “The board continues to advocate for more funding in the tree maintenance budget and don’t think it’s currently efficient. We have received several outstanding complaints.”

It’s not even cost-efficient, according to Stringer. “The city pays out millions per year in settlements resulting from falling limbs,” he said. “Reducing the city’s exposure to these types of claims is a mandate that cuts across all city agencies. I look forward to working with the Department of Parks and Recreation to achieve better results.”

“I would say eventually it will cost the City and Parks department more money to settle a lawsuit if someone is seriously hurt than it would be to just inspect and trim all the trees in Bay Ridge,” Calabrese concurred.  “The whole area needs a good tree trimming and maintenance. They can fall and hurt someone.”

Parks staffers will go out and look at trees once residents inform them of potential problems, according to Parks Department Spokesperson Meghan Lalor. However, nothing is done to correct a situation unless the tree is deemed to be an imminent danger; failing that, it waits for attention until its turn comes in the regular pruning rotation.

Stringer’s suggestions for improving the process include ensuring that accurate, detailed lists of trees that meet the minimum size requirement and need pruning are prepared, with the trees’ locations specified , and making sure that post-pruning inspections are performed and documented.

“The Parks Department needs to implement reforms that will help protect all taxpayers, boost services and ensure greater safety in all neighborhoods,” he said.

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