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Sidewalk tree repairs are lagging: Vacca

In 2007, the city embarked on MillionTreesNYC. Its admirable goal: a million new trees planted by 2030. Trees are great for shade and fresh air. Trees are beautiful.

But some Bronx residents want to know how Mayor Bloomberg intends to plant a million new trees when the city is unable to maintain its existing tree stock. Damaged sidewalks are often due to sidewalk trees. Six years ago, Karen Santana of Giegerich Place phoned in a sidewalk tree complaint. The Parks Department inspected Giegerich Place and disappeared. Santana phoned 311 again in June and was routed to Trees & Sidewalks, a Parks Department program.

Property owners are responsible for the condition of NYC sidewalks; if you’re a property owner and someone trips on your sidewalk, you’re liable. Sidewalks repairs are costly and a pain. Fortunately, there’s the Trees & Sidewalks Program. The Parks Department will inspect, score and repair a sidewalk at no charge. But the Parks Department has fallen behind, Councilman James Vacca said.

The Giegerich Place sidewalk is getting worse; the damage has spread to threaten a fire hydrant. Although the Parks Department inspected the sidewalk months ago, it hasn’t started repairs. Rather than address damaged sidewalks in the order reported, the Parks Department repairs the worst sidewalks first, those boasting the highest scores. The Giegerich Place sidewalk earned a low score. It barely qualified for the Trees & Sidewalks Program. The Parks Department has been occupied with high-priority sidewalks in Community District 10, spokeswoman Jesslyn Moser said. It plans to re-inspect the Giegerich Place sidewalk prior to Sunday, August 30. There are many damaged sidewalks that have yet to be repaired, Vacca said.

“I went to Locust Point to see for myself,” said Vacca. “The Parks Department has fallen behind when it comes to repairing sidewalks and pruning trees.”

Damaged sidewalks are trip hazards. Sidewalk trees threaten the sewage system, said Vacca. The councilman has asked the Parks Department to reassess how it prioritizes damaged sidewalks.

“We’re on the phone with the Parks Department every day,” he said. “The sidewalk issue is an important issue. It hits people on the block. People are afraid to be sued. The city has postponed tree maintenance too long.”

Santana guesses that the tree on Giegerich Place has damaged pipes under the fire hydrant. In July, drain workers ripped tree roots out of Santana’s house pipes; the tree sits next to the fire hydrant.

“The fire hydrant is the scary part,” she said. “We get these electrical storms.”

Santana is frustrated. When she asked the Parks Department to check her 2004 complaint, Santana was told that it no longer existed. Children ride bikes down the Giegerich Place sidewalk.

“I bite my nails hoping that no one gets hurt,” Santana said.

Elsewhere, the city is planting, planting, planting.

“Here we are planting,” Vacca said. “We can’t maintain the trees we already have.”

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