October 9, 2015 -- Excessive water appears to be the the likely culprit afflicting the London Pines that line Prospect Avenue just north of Tappen Beach, said Sea Cliff Tree Commission member Cecelia Wheeler at this past Monday's Village Board conference. Representatives of the group met with the Village Board to offer an update on its work since the group was established by the Village's new Tree Ordinance adopted this past spring (replacing the "tree committee"). Ms. Wheeler and her colleagues Russell Gorog and Renee Swanson as well as alternate member Carol Vogt spoke about the deteriorating condition of the Prospect Avenue trees in addition to other issues - in particular, what constitutes tree "topping," and whether or not the village ought to pursue "Tree City USA" status.
Ms. Wheeler said that the unhealthy appearance, and gradual decline towards death of several trees appears to have begun soon after Nassau County installed a sea wall from Rum Point Park southward to Tappen Beach in 1993. The conditions seem to be gradually migrating in that direction.
The wall's drainage holes, which are about 12 inches above grade, Ms. Wheeler said, do not allow water that seeps into the ground to escape and as a result drowns the roots. Whether its a heavy rain causing a torrent coming down Prospet and Laurel Avenues, or surf splashing over the wall during a storm, water remains trapped. Additionally Ms. Wheeler suspects that there may be an underground stream on the other side Prospect that is unable to drain into the harbor. She pointed out that phragmites grow there, an invasive species of plant that thrives in swampy conditions.
When the five new London Planes were planted this past spring to replace five dead ones, she explained, one of the holes that was dug was filled with water. additionally, soil boring tests that have gone down only 8 inches have revealed saturated soil. All the trees planted during the past 10 years, she continued have struggled or died. The ones planted this spring have done relatively well, she suspected, because it was a very dry summer.
As a result of the present conditions, Ms. Wheeler explained, "the iconic entrance to Sea Cliff is clearly threatened and needs professional assessment and remediation." She requested that the Village Board "allocate the resources to investigate and mitigate these issues," in particular to do deep soil boring and to bring in an arborist. Additionally, she suggested that perhaps the Village ought to stop planting new trees until the actual problem is identified and corrected.
Mayor Bruce Kennedy explained that the trees are on County property, and that the County has acknowledged that the wall was built incorrectly, but that the condition of the ailing trees does not seem to be enough to spur them to action to take on what would be a very costly remedy. He explained that he had spoken to Legislator Delia Deriggi Whitton warning that perhaps Prospect Avenue was in jeopardy, and that when she had relayed that message to county officials, that seemed to have gotten their attention. He said that if residents appealed to the county through letter writing or phone calls, that that could perhaps result in quicker action to address the issue. "It would be great if we could get everyone to do that," he said.
The board and the tree commission members also discussed the pruning of the trees. The Board and the Commission had already agreed that "pollarding" would be abandoned in favor of other pruning methods that would enable the trees to remain healthier and take on a more natural shape, and that would also be far less labor intensive. Ms. Wheeler strongly urged that dead limbs be cut from the trees as a safety measure - something that Mayor Kennedy said that Village would do.
The Commission members also sought clarification of the section of the new tree law that prohibits destructive pruning practices on trees that require a permit for removal - in particular topping - defined as "cutting back large-diameter branches to stubs, and removal of more than 25% of a tree's canopy." The rules Ms. Vogt said, seemed to be a bit unclear. The question was whether it was still considered topping if that process had already been carried out on a tree before the new law had been adopted, as is done by residents to maintain a waterview. Ms. Vogt said that it did not seem to be a prohibited action since the tree was already cut back and the maintenance pruning thus no longer fit the definition of topping.
"If it's been topped, subsequent tops cannot by definition be re-topped," Mayor Kennedy agreed. "You just can't continue to cut it in half anymore." Ms. Vogt asked if waterview properties should be given special consideration. Mr. Kennedy replied, "no."
The discussion then moved on to whether the Village wished to seek "Tree City USA" certification - a designation that the Arbor Day Foundation has bestowed on more than 3000 municipalities across the country, including Glen Cove, Port Washington, and New York City, that satisify certain requirements. Mr. Gorog explained that it "is an indicator of a strong community commitment to maintaining and managing our trees" as well as "a way to develop closer relationships with New York State Forestry agencies to aid in our tree issues and in applying for various state grants."
To receive such a designation, a municipality have a "Tree Board" with a focus on public trees - not private ones; a community tree ordinance that addresses public trees, and that provides for a tree inventory and re-planting program; a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per resident; and lastly, an Arbor Day Observance and Proclamation." Because the tree ordinance adopted last spring and the authority of the tree commission applies primarily to private trees, it would need a little tweeking for it to satisfy "Tree City USA" requirements.
As for obtaining grants, Mr. Gorog said the certification offered only a very small bit of help, but Village Administrator John Mirando said that he believed the certification was required for a couple of the grants for which municipalities could apply.
Mr. Gorog asked whether the Board believed the certification was something the Village ought to pursue. The board seemed to be of the opinion that it might be worthwhile to work towards the certification as a long-term goal, but not to undertake an immediate effort to satisfy the various requirements. The greatest obstacle seemed to be the inventory of all village trees, which is a very labor intensive endeavor, as the species, size and location of every village tree would need to be recorded.
As for whether the impact of the new Tree Ordinance, the Commission members believed that it has cut down on site visits, and that those who have sought permits, have been happy to replant and have sought advice from the Commission on not only if trees ought to come down but also what trees to plant.
"There's a real educational aspect to this," said Ms. Swanson.
The Commission has just completed a brochure with information concerning trees that will soon be mailed out to residents.
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