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Buffalo's tree-removal blitz to end in 2 weeks amid gripes about haste

Buffalo's tree-removal blitz will be finished in two weeks, and hundreds of residents think the city moved too quickly in its chopping mission.

Some think the city fast-tracked the process to make sure the tab for all tree removals ultimately would be picked up by Washington. The city faces an October deadline for receiving reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, although some local leaders are asking for a one-year extension.

More than 6,000 trees have been taken down in the city, including 2,500 that were removed within weeks after the October storm. The final phase began this spring and targeted 3,991 trees that experts concluded should be removed. Fewer than 400 of the damaged trees along city streets remain, and acting Public Works Commissioner Daniel E. Kreuz said he expects those to be removed by the end of the month.

City Hall offices have been flooded with hundreds of complaints over the past couple of months from property owners who don't think their trees should have been cut down.

South Buffalo resident Jack Landgraf was among them, saying he was outraged when crews cut down a 100-year-old silver maple outside his home on Woodside and McKinley avenues several weeks ago. Landgraf said there are other trees still standing that sustained more storm damage than the tree that was removed. He claimed even a tree-removal crew member wondered if they had flagged the right tree and called a supervisor before it was cut down.

"I'm not an arborist. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at what was done and think some negligence was involved," Landgraf said. "It just doesn't pass the common sense test."

But Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration defends a process that it insists was carefully executed, with input from arborists.

Kreuz stressed that every tree on the removal list was inspected twice. The first inspection involved landscape architects from Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers, the city's urban forestry manager. The second inspection was performed by Jeff Brett, a certified arborist with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and two arborists from Rochester.

The experts inspected 7,700 trees, Kreuz said, before generating a list of 3,991 that should be removed.

"We kept up almost half of the trees [that were inspected]. It's not like we went crazy," Kreuz said.

Property owners received letters from the city, and when people challenged the decision to cut down trees, Kreuz said, officials further scrutinized the cases. But some residents claim they only learned which trees were targeted for removal a day or two before crews showed up with saws.

Brown's communications chief disputed criticism that the city rushed to judgment and cut down some trees too quickly. "This wasn't a willy-nilly, fly-by-night process," said Peter K. Cutler.

Still, a movement has been afoot to let trees "self-heal." Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto sponsored a bill backed by fellow lawmakers urging FEMA to push the deadline for storm reimbursements back a year to October 2008. LoCurto said the present deadline forced the city to err on the side of taking trees down.

Council Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. received an e-mail from a constituent saying residents living around Ashland and Norwood avenues are "going wild" over the rash of tree cuttings.

A large tree outside James Watson's home at the corner of Linwood Avenue and Barker Street was chopped down this week. Watson said the tree appeared to be healthy. Many other trees in his neighborhood also were cut down in recent days, Watson said.

Kreuz said he empathizes with people like Watson.

"I don't like seeing trees come down myself," Kreuz said. "I can't say everyone is happy, but we followed FEMA guidelines and relied on certified arborists."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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