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Long-awaited LIE sound barrier on hold as city tries to save trees

The state Department of Transportation began drilling holes to place a long-awaited sound barrier behind the block of 57th Avenue just east of Little Neck Parkway - a barrier residents have sought for five years that was originally slated to be finished in 2004.But a handful of trees on the ragged strip land between their backyards and the Horace Harding Expressway have stopped the project and sparked a turf war between the city Parks Department and the state DOT."Now they're holding the trees for ransom," said Dr. Marvin Tessler, who has lived for 42 years on the block.About two dozen trees are wedged between the back of the houses and the LIE service road. Residents have asked that the trees be removed to make way for the barrier, but the Parks Department has refused to grant the DOT a permit to do so-stopping the work on the barrier that began last week.Gina Masullo, a Parks spokeswoman, said the main concern is seven healthy oaks that the department does not want to eliminate."Our main priority is just the health of the trees," she said. DOT and Parks officials were scheduled to meet "to explore other options," including possibly moving the barrier to between the LIE and Horace Harding, Masullo said.But residents said that would only be half a solution because they would still be plagued by noise from the service road. Moreover, they said, neither the DOT nor the Parks Department has ever maintained the land where the trees are planted. Tires, trash and other debris from the road spills over into their backyards.In June 2005, Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece wrote to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe asking that the department either remove the trees or commit to maintaining the strip after the sound barrier goes up. And residents have never been attached to the flora bordering the expressway."It's not a question of the people here. It's a question of they don't know what to do with these trees," said Conrad Tompkins, a 14-year resident of 57th Avenue. "If they did leave the trees, it would be a nuisance. They can't even maintain them now."Tompkins, Tessler and others on the block have called leaders from Parks and DOT and met with officials from CB 11 and Councilman David Weprin's (D-Little Neck) office to try to resolve the issue. But now, even after the shovels were in the ground last week, residents say the future of the barrier they have waited so long for is uncertain."I thought they were about ready to start," Tompkins said. "Now we're in a quandary."Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.

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