Fresh Meadows resident John Amato, who has been documenting problem spots and filing them into the 311 system, believes it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
Last Thursday, Amato visited three sites in his neighborhood where trees are either leaning, unpruned or dead. He criticized the Parks Department for giving the trees either a “C” or “D” rating, signaling that they are low on the priority list for maintenance.
He first inspected the trees at 75th Avenue between 174th and 175th streets, next to the Holy Family Catholic Academy. Three trees there were given “D” ratings. According to Amato, those trees are scheduled for pruning by June 2021.
“All of these trees, the branches are dangerously close to the windows of the convent,” he said. “If there is a major storm and they come down, that glass would shatter.”
Amato that said Mary Scheer, the principal of Holy Family, has already asked the Parks Department to remove the trees by the school.
At one the trees, Amato pointed out that fungus was growing at its base. The sidewalk was also cracked by the roots.
“That’s not indicative of a tree that’s in excellent health,” he said. “When you see fungus like that, there’s probably something on going within the trunk of the tree.”
Around the corner on 75th Avenue, a large tree is leaning in the direction of the school building. After a recent nor’easter, Amato said branches had fallen and scattered, not only on the sidewalk, but also onto school grounds. The Fresh Meadows resident fears that a future storm will cause real damage to the school.
“If it falls this way, it will slam into the side of the building,” he said.
The next site he visited was at 164th Street and 67th Avenue. Though this particular tree, with a hole in the middle, received a C rating and a work order to be removed last July, the tree remains. Amato believes the tree is dead.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If this thing goes, it takes out this lane, possibly reach the front door of the residence, crush a couple of cars or kill somebody who is walking.
The last location is on 164th Street between Lithonia and Metcalf avenues. Amato pointed at two trees that were leaning, likely because of a tornado that ripped through the area eight years ago.
Though Amato filed 311 complaints on the trees, the Parks Department determined that “no work is necessary” when they inspected the site.
“If this thing ever falls, that house is history,” he said about the home across the street. “That’ll go right through the roof.”
Amato also worries that should the leaning trees fall over, that would disrupt the 164th Street corridor, a major bus route that runs between large cemeteries.
The concerned citizen said while tree inspectors are “doing an excellent job,” he fears there may not be enough people to inspect the hundreds of thousands of trees in the borough. He also questioned why the trees he visited were not higher on the Parks Department’s priority list.
“I can’t see how these are not A or B ratings,” he said.
State Senator Tony Avella, a frequent critic of the Parks Department over their maintenance of trees, again pointed to a survey he conducted in which 66 percent of respondents said they were scared for the safety of their family and home because of trees.
“The mayor and the City Council need to put more money into tree maintenance,” he said. “They have to respond to these things in a much more timely fashion.
“People are getting killed because of this,” Avella added, referring to two tree-related deaths in the nearby area.
The state senator agreed with Amato that there are “not enough” inspectors to take care of all of the trees in Queens. Avella said it often takes weeks, and sometimes months, to get an inspection.
Parks Department spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said in an email that a leaning tree does not automatically indicate poor health. “Phototropic leaning” is a naturally-occurring event where trees lean toward the light, she said.
“Our certified arborists look for structural conditions of a tree that may lead to failure, including broken or hanging branches, cracks in the trunk or branches, or dead or dying parts of the tree,” Lalor said.