Amtrak stops cutting trees

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Amtrak recently chopped down hundreds of trees along its tracks in western Queens, but halted the clearing after livid Woodside and Astoria residents complained to the railroad corporation.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and residents of Boulevard Gardens, an apartment complex at 51st Street at 32nd Avenue near the border of Astoria and Woodside, told an Amtrak representative at a May 18 meeting they were furious that hundreds of trees had been removed along borough tracks. The trees had been cut down in Astoria, Woodside, Forest Hills and other borough neighborhoods.

“These trees were nowhere near the tracks and residents said they posed no obstruction,” Gianaris said. “This does incredible damage to air quality, especially in an area where the air is already bad due to power plants. It was an aggressive effort by Amtrak.”

Gianaris said the community was given no notice that the trees would be taken down.

In addition, the railroad company has been removing trees all the way from Washington, D.C., to Boston, the assemblyman said.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the company had removed trees to prevent the danger of falling leaves and limbs onto its tracks.

“We listened to residents’ complaints, so we are going to be looking to add some shrubs or lower trees,” he said.

The railroad is no longer removing the trees in the borough, he said.

At last week’s meeting, the corporation vowed to plant new fir trees along its tracks.

“They were very solicitous and they apologized,” Gianaris said. “But with Amtrak, like many utilities and agencies, the proof is in the pudding. We’ll wait to see what they’ll do.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) have also gotten involved in the matter.

Residents in the community said the trees had helped to reduce noise from the tracks as well as improve air quality in the neighborhood.

Gianaris said he was shocked that Amtrak was allowed to remove the trees, especially in light of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to plant 1 million trees in the five boroughs over a period of a decade.

“It’s a classic example of government working at cross purposes,” the assemblyman said. “While the mayor’s planting trees across the city, here’s Amtrak chopping them down.”

Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he has written a letter to Amtrak, enquiring whether there were environmental reviews for the tree removal.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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