Saturday, June 6, 2009

LIRR Took Wrong Track Clearing Brush, Locals Say by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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A Long Island Rail Road effort to clear brush that blocks passing trains in Forest Hills has devastated a plentiful array of trees and shrubs that added natural beauty to the urban landscape, angry locals charge.

The stretch of decimated plant life - along the north side of tracks parallel to Austin St. from 71st to 82nd Aves. - reminded residents of a 2007 LIRR sweep that turned mighty trees into mere stumps.

"I was really hoping to prevent the mass clearing," said Nate Grove, 36, who lives in an Ascan Ave. co-op. "There's no ground coverage, there's no saplings and limbs have been removed from big, healthy trees."

Beginning April 24, railroad officials sent about 1,250 notices to locals to warn they would soon remove overgrown trees and vegetation that "interfere with safety and train service reliability."

The letter from LIRR President Helena Williams said tree branches and limbs often grow into utility wires and obscure train crews' sightlines.

The LIRR also notified the local community board and the Forest Hills Gardens Corp., a private company that owns and maintains an exclusive enclave that borders in part on the tracks.

Grove met with LIRR brass on May 8, and said he left the meeting realizing the work would result in a different look than he wanted.

But he said he was shocked at the extent of the clearing, which started the week of May 11 and ended last Friday.

"I thought they could have been a lot more generous with leaving more coverage," he said.

Residents of the Tennis View Apartments, a two-building co-op near the tracks, said the destruction was like déjà vu of a brush-clearing push two years ago on the other side of 71st Ave.

"They cut down 100-year-old trees," co-op president James Versocki said. "There were other alternatives. They could have replaced [them] with evergreens."

Another Tennis View co-op owner, Edward McGinnis, griped that the trees cut down in 2007 had provided not only pleasant scenery but also a train noise barrier for the adjacent West Side Tennis Club.

But LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena insisted the railroad made efforts "to preserve a tree buffer where possible," adding, "Safety is always our overriding concern."