Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

East River deforestation will become a reforestation

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert
Trees have been cut down along the East River promenade as part of the repair of the promenade deck. Some, though not all, of the trees — like the one in the foreground, suffering from rot — were not healthy.
Roger Carr went out to do his usual yoga exercises in East River Park one morning last week, when he noticed something was missing.

“I do my headstands against a tree — and the tree’s gone,” he said.

An alleyway of 20 London plane trees stretching from the end of the Sixth St. F.D.R. overpass to the park’s riverfront promenade was in the process of being felled.

“I counted 18 [trees] with X’s on them,” he said.

Carr says he was told by a project supervisor at the site that these trees were being chopped down to create a “containment area” for construction equipment for renovation of the park’s waterfront promenade, and that there are plans at some later point to include an “architectural device” at the spot.

But the deforestation went beyond the Sixth St. passageway.

“I noticed a lot of trees being cut down along the promenade — and I thought ‘Dutch elm disease,’ ” Carr said.

Carr, a photographer who lives in the East Village, recalled that when he came to the neighborhood from England 30 years ago, the trees were then fully grown.

“These were trees from Robert Moses’ time…. This wouldn’t have happened during Henry Stern’s time, because he was very tree-conscious,” he added, referring to the former Parks Department commissioner who coined the term “arborcide.”

However, Parks says the trees are being cut down as part of the renovation of the promenade deck, which was closed in 2000 when it was deemed unsafe. Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson, said the trees have been removed in preparation for the structure’s repair. A total of 105 of the park’s 270 trees are being removed. Forty-five of these will be transplanted into other city parks; sixty won’t be transplanted because they weren’t in healthy condition or wouldn’t survive the transplant.

The trees along the promenade have to be cut down because they are actually on the concrete deck of the structure and wouldn’t survive the construction work, Johnston said. Some other trees in the park are being felled because they are unhealthy, he added.

However, the deforestation will eventually become a reforestation, since Parks plans to plant 240 new trees — including 18 different species — along with “thousands” of shrubs and perennials in the park, he said.

Johnston noted that in the fall of 2003 Community Board 3 approved the project.

“Obviously, the Parks Department does not make improvements to parks without going through the community board process — and this was part of that,” he noted.

“We’re still trying to get more information regarding East River Park,” said Susan Stetzer, C.B. 3 district manager. “What we remember is that possibly the replacement of trees was part of the plan but that, if it was, it was subsumed in the larger reconstruction picture.” She said she has asked the board’s Parks liaison to come to the board’s District Services Cabinet meeting on April 12 to provide more information.

The $54 million project started in January of this year and is slated to finish in two-and-a-half to three years. Johnston said, contrary to some reports, the repair of the promenade isn’t behind schedule.

“We could’ve started the project a little sooner — a few months,” he noted, adding that Con Edison had to do some initial work on the promenade deck structure.

Ellen LeCompte, a board of directors member of the East Village Parks Conservancy, said the organization was upset by the tree-clearance project.

“Well, of course, because they’re all old trees and it’s a shame to lose them,” she said. “We’re concerned and we have questioned the Parks Department and we’ve been assured that they’re only taking down trees that will be compromised by promenade repairs.”

Parks’ Johnston did not provide an answer by press time as to why trees in the park at Sixth St. were allegedly being felled to create a “containment area” for construction equipment or whether an alleged “architectural device” was planned for this spot.

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