Mayor Bloomberg's 'MillionTreesNYC' plan leaves homeowners up a tree for sidewalk and sewer repairs

Mayor Bloomberg's 'MillionTreesNYC' plan could be creating a million headaches - and almost as much in costs - for homeowners.

His plan to plant a million trees by 2017 to help New Yorkers breathe a little easier could also tear up homeowners' sidewalks and sewer pipelines.

While the city does fix sidewalks, there is a long waiting list, leaving cracked sidewalks an open invitation for people to trip and injure themselves, with lawsuits not far behind, a Daily News investigation has found.

A 2005 city tree census found 5.2 million trees. Officials identified 220,000 streets that could use more. Then they started planting.

So far, the city and the New York Restoration Project have planted 303,000 trees, with a total budget of just under $125 million.

The city has spent $14 million since 2005 to fix 6,624 sidewalks torn up by tree roots, according to the city Parks Department.

Foresters evaluate each problem, and depending on their rating, a homeowner can wait more than a year to have the work done, said City Councilman James Vacca (D-East Bronx).

The devastation tree roots can have on sewer pipes is another problem.

"The older sewer connections were put together with cement, and the tree roots penetrate the connections. It happens frequently," said John Figliolia, president of the New York Association of Water and Sewer Excavators. "You're talking thousands and thousands of dollars."

"No way would I want a tree planted in front of my property," said Steven Kogel of Harris Watermain and Sewer Contractors in East New York, Brooklyn. "As a master plumber, I know what a tree can do to the sewer and the sidewalk. It's a mess."

And when there's a tree in front of a house and the sewer pipes have to be changed, the contractor must take out a Parks Department permit and hire an arborist who will oversee the excavation and installation of the sewer, said Kogel. "The job, which would take two days, takes twice as long."

The city is responsible for any trip-and-fall cases involving tree roots in front of a three-family home or smaller. The city Law Department said it had to pay out $39 million in judgments and settlements last year for cases involving sidewalk defects.

Local community boards report dozens of complaints from homeowners who do not want trees planted by their homes.

Longtime Queens community activist Lawrence Cormier was stunned when the city planted four trees in front of his St. Albans home. "I'm concerned about the sidewalks, the leaves, the visibility," said Cormier. "There are just too many trees."

Almost a year ago, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) got a promise from the Parks Department that it would remove one of the trees. "I'm still waiting," Cormier said.

"It's a good idea," Vacca said of the tree plan. "But I want to preserve the right of a homeowner to say, 'I don't want a tree, the roots of the tree buckle the sidewalk,'" he added.

The Bronx councilman noted that Robert Gilbert, a senior citizen who lives on City Island, "begged me not to have the trees put in," Vacca said. "But the city went forward anyway."

"We're aware of a number of complaints. But this is what happens when you have a large city initiative," said Morgan Monaco, director of MillionTreeNYC. "I would say that the complaints represent the minority. The majority of feedback we receive is positive."

But Marian Rivas, 66, of E. 144th St. in the South Bronx disagrees. Rivas and her neighbors fought - and lost - over the city planting trees on her block.

"It's a big problem," she said. "I don't understand why they do this. The people who have a tree planted in front of their house - it's a disaster.

Daily News


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