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Stumped

Maybe 13 really is an unlucky number.

The Cherry and Bradford Pear trees along Shelter Rock Road and Searingtown Road that, more than anything else in Manhasset, once heralded spring—are gone. Stumps line the roads for Spring 2013.

It’s time for their appearance, when the sight of those billowing limbs create an instant smile and a knowing nod from motorists that winter is surely over; spring has opened her arms.

Marvin Natiss, Village of North Hills Mayor, recently received a letter from a North Hills group asking why all the trees are gone. “I give everyone the same answer. I’m staying on top of the county for answers.”

When asked, Howard Weitzman, who is running for county comptroller, provided the Manhasset Press with information on the denuded thoroughfares leading to Manhasset. “The contractor for the tree removal was Great Services, Inc. who have billed the county for $68 million and are looking for $40 million more. They got a no bid contract and there is no documentation for the work they did. They were paid per tree to remove trees and the county did not supervise their work.”

Natiss said that when he met with the county he told them how unhappy he was. The county responded, he recalled, that they only cut down compromised trees and those obstructing utility lines, “but I said not true, because trees were cut down on both sides of the road and wires are only on one side.”

Coincidentally, Mayor Natiss reported that his village had been working with Rich Bentley’s group, the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, and were in the process, prior to Sandy, of evaluating which trees needed to be replaced. After Sandy hit, the trees were wiped out by the county Natiss said, so their study was put in abeyance.

Beautification is not the only issue.

John Vlahakis lives on Mayfair Lane in Strathmore Village and he is angry and horrified about the needless destruction of so many lovely trees along Shelter Rock and Searingtown Roads.

A pilot, he said, “I fly all over the world and see similar trees that are manicured and trimmed so they do not touch the power lines.” During the power outages caused by Sandy, Vlahakis said he chatted with out of state crews from Wisconsin who said the way the trees had been trimmed caused them to be unbalanced. Vlahakis underscored that during severe wind or snow or ice the unbalanced weight can topple trees. Other local residents, at the time the trees were trimmed, referred to the haircuts as  “reverse Mohawks.”

The power lines are still old—cutting all those trees to stumps accomplished nothing, Vlahakis insisted. And, he complained, the trees absorbed noise; now “I am constantly aware of the traffic on Searingtown Road without the buffer of those beautiful trees.”

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos’ response regarding cutting down all the trees is printed in its entirety as no one can understand how this could have happened.

“Nassau County has a contract with Looks Great Tree Services Inc. for tree pruning.  This contract was advertised July 2011 and four vendors submitted bids on this service.  Looks Great Tree Services Inc. won the contract and agreement was signed Aug. 26, 2011.  Looks Great has been a state approved vendor since 2009. When Superstorm Sandy devastated Nassau County, Nassau County Department of Public Works, in accordance with the County Charter, activated an emergency contract with Looks Great Tree Service based on the existing tree pruning contract which also provides for debris removal.  The Nassau County Legislature Rules Committee unanimously approved the resolution on Dec. 3, 2012 under Rules Resolution 283, 2012.

“Nassau County as of March 21, 2013 has paid Looks Great $34,581,867.81 and is currently reviewing an additional $25,808,113 in claims.  The vendor is paid based on diameter of tree or limbs removed and cubic yard on disposal with a mileage factor.

“The County used the DebrisTech e-ticket system approved by FEMA on each tree cut during the storm so maximum reimbursement can be obtained from FEMA.  The system requires; ticket number; truck number; a picture of the tree or limb to be removed; truck owner transporting the tree; debris type (why tree was cut); tree size; time tree was removed; location of tree (longitude and latitude coordinates) and independent monitor typed name and signature (either county employee or independent contractor). All claims have DebrisTech tickets as support.”

Additionally, Comptroller Maragos said that Deputy DPW Commissioner Richard Millet attested that:

“Following Federal FEMA guidelines for storm debris removal the county, with both county employees and county hired contractors, surveyed damaged trees after Superstorm Sandy and it was up to each team of these inspectors to determine whether a tree needed to be cut down. Both the county hired contractors and the county employees making these assessments received specific specialized training from FEMA.

“It is also important to note that the contractors hired to make these assessments do not work for the same company that the county awarded the debris removal contract thus this would remove the potential for conflicts of interest.

“The comptroller’s office is further investigating and auditing the circumstances of the cutting of trees on Searington Road.”

Marvin Natiss had questioned if the county will replace the trees with FEMA money. Another question he asked is how many trees were compromised—or not. That needs to be worked out by the county. “We need to know,” he concluded, “why so many were cut down.”

John Vlahakis said angrily, “Cutting down those trees destroyed the best landscaping we had around here. Someone was smart to plant them and stupid to cut them down.”