Residents and local environmental groups are up in arms over the cutting of dozens of trees at Glen Cove's nature preserves by Nassau County crews, reportedly for safety reasons following Hurricane Sandy.
"It's incredible," said Kathrine Natale, a board member at the North Shore Audobon Society. She visited Garvies Point Museum & Preserve with Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton as crews set to work there Friday.
"They're overzealous," Natale said. The work was halted, she said, but permanent damage has been done. "We stopped them, but they still cut trees on the bluff where no one walks."
DeRiggi-Whitton's office reported that 143 trees were cut down at Welwyn Preserve last week. Many of them were live and posed no danger to walkers, according to testimony from witnesses who saw the work and its aftermath.
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Mistakes appear to have been made in who was sent to do the cutting and how trees were identified as dangerous. DeRiggi-Whitton said she was told that each crew was led by an arborist selecting dangerous dead trees, but that the claim doesn't jive with what she heard from people who saw the cutting happen.
"Testimony from many people on the ground at both Glen Cove locations suggested that there was not correct supervision and crews seemed to be carelessly damaging precious preserve area without a clear purpose," said a statement from her office.
Michael Martino, a spokesman for the County, explained the County's process in an email: "In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, trees are assessed and if they meet certain criteria, such as 50 percent damage, a split trunk or broken branches that expose heartwood or has fallen or been uprooted within a public use area or is leaning at an angle greater than 30 degrees it is on the interest of public safety to remove the tree. Crews, contracted with the County and approved by the County Legislature, are paid hourly and the expense is reimbursed by FEMA. In the Spring, the County will seek to plant new trees throughout Nassau."
DeRiggi-Whitton's office said she raised her concerns at the Nassau County Legislature's committee sessions Monday, where a Parks and Recreation head said "the wrong crew had been sent to Welwyn for several days and was ultimately removed," her office said.
Martino said that information was "not accurate."
The legislator questioned why the locations were made a priority over more public areas.
"It is terrible that while tree limbs are still hanging on wires right out on Glen Cove Road, crews were being set loose in protected natural areas and doing permanent damage,” DeRiggi-Whitton said in a statement.
Natale, who served as supervisor at Garvies Point for 39 years, said the Garvies Point Museum staff arrived Wednesday morning to find a new lock on the gate and a County representative there who explained that the preserve was closed while crews inside cleared trails.
Natale said the closure seemed to come only after she was seen by the workers talking to an NBC News television crew at the preserve Tuesday. She said the workers called police, who responded and said visitors were allowed as long as the park was open.
The County said Wednesday that the park was closed "for the safety of any park visitors as trees were assessed and/or removed if necessary."
She said a group from Huntington's Flower Hill School had outdoor programs scheduled for Wednesday.
"They're furious," she said.
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