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Regis Philbin voices defense of Parkway trees

The furious fight to save the Pelham Parkway trees is getting some star power behind it.

Regis Philbin and former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern are both opposing the DOT’s plan to kill dozens of mature trees along Pelham Parkway during a $36 million reconstruction.

A grassroots effort has been underway for four months to save the trees, which are slated to be cut down to make way for guardrails along the roadway. However, the Department of Design and Construction insists that the 80 mature and majestic trees reaching up to 60 feet tall will have to be removed during the two year roadway project.

Between 30 and 40 of the trees are slated for the axe because they are “diseased or dying,” but the rest will be chopped because a DOT design indicates the trees would interfere with the new guardrails.

According to DDC, the new guardrails will need at least two feet of space behind them in order to absorb the shock of a collision and to properly deflect errant cars.

The removal of the trees drew the ire of former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who wrote a letter published in the New York Post.

In his Sunday, August 8 letter Stern, who is known for having coined the phrase “arboricide,” wrote that the trees are being removed for the convenience of the contractor, and that the new guardrails can coexist with the trees.

“For New York to execute its own trees in order to save a few dollars on a construction project,” Stern wrote, “is indefensible.”

Television personality Regis Philbin, who grew up near Pelham Parkway, read Stern’s letter and voiced his opposition to the plan on the nationally televised “Live with Regis and Kelly” show on Tuesday, August 10.

Quoting Stern’s letter, he described to his audience the proposal to kill 87 trees. “Oh, no. No!” commented Kelly Ripa as he read aloud.

Philbin then asked his viewers: “Why in the world would they have to remove 87 beautiful, mature, lovely trees that have been there for years?”

As his audience sighed, he added, “And it’s going to cost us $36 million dollars. That’s how they waste money here in this city, it drives me crazy. Leave those trees alone!”

The mature trees are facing execution in the spring of 2012. The Parks Department will replace them with 246 saplings, but DDC has not announced which species of trees will be planted.

Construction on the Pelham Parkway South portion of the $36 million project began on Monday, August 16.

“The position of the board has not changed,” said John Fratta, Community Board 11 district manager. “To us, a human life is more important than a tree. The road is dangerous and we have had many accidents that have resulted in fatalities. This project has been in the works since 1986.”

He urged all of those who are concerned about the look of the parkway to think of the families who have lost loved ones to traffic fatalities.

“The barriers that are used right now are ineffective,” Fratta said. “Drivers are hitting the barrier and the trees.”

DDC spokesman Craig Chin said that he does not yet have information as to what tree species will be planted in place of the trees that are in the DOT’s way.

Therefore there is no way of knowing if the new trees, when fully grown many years from now, will ever provide the same beauty that the current trees give to park-lovers like Philbin and Stern.

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