Focus on Great Neck Trees

The Epstein residence, just hours after Stephanie Epstein was injured

Many people in Great Neck are looking at trees with increased interest since news spread of Wooleys Lane East resident Stephanie Epstein’s incredibly lucky escape from a tree that crashed through the roof of her bedroom last week.

Every local municipality that the Record contacted, from the Town of North Hempstead to the small Village of Russell Gardens has an aggressive tree inspection program and detailed procedures when a problem tree is identified.

Pedram Bral, Mayor of Great Neck Village where the Epstein family house is located, said that he intends to send a letter to all residents, urging them to carefully evaluate the trees on their properties and to inform the village of any problems.

Speaking of the incident involving the young woman who he visited in the hospital shortly after she was rescued, he said, “I think we all need to really count our blessings and be especially vigilant in looking around to find out if there are any trees that village officials need to examine.”

The mayor also suggested that homeowners hire an arborist to examine their trees, if necessary. The tree that trapped the 20-year-old Epstein came from an adjoining backyard.

Bral, who visited the accident scene early that morning also said, “I want to thank the responders that got to the young lady as soon as they did and freed her,” he said. “I’m thrilled that she survived it and was left with just a few bruises.”

Particularly concerned with trees on a daily basis as part of his role as Superintendent of the Great Neck Park District is Peter Renick, who’s responsible for more than 20 parks and facilities, including Kings Point Park, that alone has more than 10,000 trees.

“People have become scared of trees,” said Renick, referring to the microburst that devastated the trees in the Village Green in June 2010 and following Hurricane Sandy. “Unfortunately no one can ever be totally 100 percent sure of the safety of an individual tree. The Park District has had perfectly healthy looking trees come down for no apparent reason.”

“Each year, the Park District is budgeting more on arborists, tree work and replacing trees,” he added. “Every day our park supervisors and staff look for any signs of problems. The Park District does everything possible to assure everyone’s safety.”

Mayor Jean Celender said that Great Neck Plaza performs an annual inspection of all its trees and has a thorough tree management plan in place—one that it completed just last year.

As for trees that are on private property, Celender added, “If the village spots a problem tree situation, we will send the homeowner or property owner a written letter putting them on notice.” Village policy requires that the problem be fixed within seven days. If the homeowner does not comply, the village will send a crew in and bill the owner.

The Plaza has also had workshops in the past to help its residents better manage trees on their own properties.

“We spend a tremendous amount of money on maintaining our trees now,” said Russell Gardens Mayor Steve Kirschner. “When I first became a trustee 25 years ago we used to allocate about $1,500 a year for tree maintenance. Now, and I understand there’s been inflation, I can tell you that we probably allocate in the neighborhood of $50,000 a year.”

A good number of the trees owned by Russell Gardens actually sit on residential property. The village has a large forest in its center and several streets featuring very tall trees that form an unusual natural canopy. For a problem tree that is the property owner’s responsibility, Kirschner says a summons can be issued that must be answered in court.

Like most municipalities that are highly protective of their trees, Russell Gardens requires homeowners to acquire a permit before doing any tree work, be it a village or private tree.

Ryan Mulholland, deputy director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, when contacted, urged residents to use the town’s 311 call center for concerns about trees.

“The call center,” he said, “is set up to track residents’ concerns regarding dangerous trees near their home or in their neighborhood. One we are notified by a resident, the Town’s highway department will send an inspector to check on the tree.”

“Whenever there’s a storm…they will survey the trees to see if they are in danger of falling,” he continued. The highway department would then remove them immediately. The town removed 518 trees in 2014.”

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