West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 14 | September 5 - 11, 2007

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

An arborist systematically sawing off parts of a tree he was felling on Mercer St. on Tues., Aug. 28.

Chopping trees, N.Y.U. starts green project, but some neighbors see red

By Lincoln Anderson

More than a few Mercer St. neighbors were outraged last week, when, alerted by the jarring sound of revving chainsaws, they watched as a shady grove of beloved trees in front of New York University’s Warren Weaver Hall was felled.

Although the trees were quickly chopped down, they will eventually be replaced by N.Y.U., which will also spruce up this one block of green strip along Mercer St. as part of its co-generation plant expansion project under Mercer St. The co-gen project is expected to take one and a half to two years to complete.

“N.Y.U. has begun work on our new co-generation facility, which will provide cleaner and more efficient energy to 30 of our buildings,” said Kelly Devers Franklin, a university spokesperson. “The siting of the co-gen facility — on Mercer St. between W. Third and W. Fourth — was determined by the overwhelming vote of our local community board after evaluating other proposals.

“Unfortunately, a number of trees have to be removed for the construction to go forward,” Devers Franklin said. “Five of the original 28 trees on the block will be transplanted. We were open to transplanting all of the trees, but both the two arborists we consulted and the Parks Department agreed that the majority of the trees would not survive relocation. Due to the Asian longhorned beetle quarantine ... the remaining trees had to be chipped on site immediately. Ultimately, N.Y.U. will plant more trees than will be lost to construction, both as part of the new, tree-filled park to be built above the new co-generation facility as well as at several sites throughout the neighborhood as guided by the Parks Department,” Devers Franklin said.

“The loss of these trees, though unavoidable, is regrettable,” she added. “That is why we have worked so closely with experts in this area and the Parks Department to ensure we were proceeding in the most responsible manner possible. It is worth noting that the co-generation plant is so much more efficient at producing electricity and reduces carbon dioxide emissions and pollution so much compared to conventional power generation that it is the equivalent of 7.8 million trees.” 

Some of the wood chips would be taken to Washington Square Park, Devers Franklin said she had been informed, adding that the wood-chipping process reportedly kills any Asian longhorned beetles.

A Villager photographer who documented the trees being sawed down on Aug. 28, reported that several neighbors came up to her and thanked her for being there to record the deforestation. The Villager also received a phone call from a man who said he did not want to give his name because he works for N.Y.U. who said he was anguished to see the familiar arbor annihilated.

Devers Franklin said that the five trees that are being transplanted are still standing.

“We’re waiting for Parks to choose where they will go,” she said. “They need to be moved within the beetle quarantine zone, which extends up to 125th St.” The trees cannot leave Manhattan Island, she said.

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