Ozone Park couple says unstable tree unsafe


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

Photo Courtesy of The Queens Courier

Hurricane Irene may be a thing of the past, but one Ozone Park couple says they live in constant fear of what the summer storm left behind.

David and Lillian Hughes told The Courier that they’re worried a strong wind may topple an 80-foot unstable tree outside their home on 107th Street.

“The tree is very large, and it’s going to fall at one point when the wind hits it in the right way. We don’t know when that’s going to happen, and we’re worried,” David said. “If that tree comes into the house, it’s going to smash the whole house. It could cave in and kill somebody.”

Residents since 1980, David, 62, and his wife Lillian, 55, first noticed that the tree was unsteady immediately after Hurricane Irene. David called 9-1-1 and was told it was not an emergency. He then called 3-1-1 several times and reported the situation to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

“The curb cracked, and I actually saw it going up and down about two inches. The dirt around the tree was also going up and down at the same time. The entire tree — the roots, the trunk, and the branches — was wobbling and swaying back and forth toward the street and toward my house. I got alarmed because I thought that at any second the tree could collapse,” he said.

David said that if the tree fell, it would either fall onto their house or go the other direction and knock out the power lines across the street.

He said he’s reached out to the police, to the Parks Department, to Assemblymember Michael Miller, and now to the press. But despite constantly being vigilant in the matter, David said he’s reached a dead end.

“Almost two months have gone by now, and nothing has been done. I don’t want to live like this,” he said. “I know I can’t legally try to take down the tree myself, so I can’t do anything about it. On the other hand, if the Parks Department doesn’t do anything, what am I supposed to do — wait until the tree falls and then say ‘Well, I told you so?’ That’s kind of a backwards way of doing things.”

The Parks Department said the Hughes family last filed a report on August 28. The tree was deemed healthy following an inspection on August 31, according to spokesperson Trish Bertuccio.

Bertuccio said the tree could be checked again, but the Hughes would have to file a formal request.

“It looks healthy, but the fact of the matter is the root system is not healthy. It’s not strong enough to hold the tree up,” David said. “It’s not a question of the tree itself. It’s a question of the root system that supports the tree. I can’t X-ray the ground, but these are the facts that make the difference. I pray something is done before it’s too late.”

Neighbor Francisco Rivera said he witnessed the tree swaying after Hurricane Irene and is aware of the possible danger.

“It’s already moving,” he said. “If another wind is strong enough, who knows what kind of damage can be done — and then what? Everybody is going to feel sorry.”