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Turning over a new leaf In the 2 years since the October storm, thousands of trees have been planted


Of all the nicknames for the October 2006 snowstorm, that may have been the most accurate.

It was two years ago tonight when a freak storm dumped nearly two feet of heavy wet snow onto Buffalo and its suburbs. Tens of thousands of homeowners listened with shock and sadness as the majestic trees that had shaded their homes seemingly forever came crashing down.

Officials now estimate that 57,000 trees were or might still be lost as the result of that night.

On the second anniversary, the region is showing signs it is turning over a new leaf.

Thousands of new trees have been planted. Thousands more will be planted this fall.

To prevent mass devastation from disease or pests, dozens of varieties of trees are being planted to replace the handful of varieties that came down.

And while many of Western New Yorkers bemoaned the copious rainfall this past summer, the extra water helped those newly planted trees take root.

In the months that followed the Oct. 12-13, 2006 storm, a volunteer organization working to restore the region's green canopy, announced its intention to plant 30,000 trees by 2012. The plan is to have municipalities match the group's efforts.

"I am committed to it," said Re-Tree co-chairman Paul D. Maurer. "We will do it somehow, some way."

In the Town of Tonawanda alone, there used to be 31,000 street trees -- the trees the town planted between sidewalks and curbs.

"Almost all those had some damage to them because they still had their leaves [when the snow fell]," said Highway Superintendent Bradley A. Rowles.

Following the storm, the town cleared away 500,000 cubic yards of debris. In the two years since the storm, 1,800 damaged trees have had to be cut down.

In three planting seasons -- April and November 2007, and this past April -- approximately 700 trees were replaced. The Tonawanda Town Board recently awarded contracts to buy 877 more, and the town will receive another 165 from Re-Tree.

The reimbursement of stump-grinding costs by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has given the town more money to buy trees.

"Within another year, we will have the town back to pre-storm [levels]," Rowles said.

Residents in some of the hardest-hit areas of the Town of Tonawanda praise the town's efforts and are optimistic their neighborhoods one day will look like they did before the storm.

"People want [the trees] replaced, but people have to realize it's a decade's process," said Robert McEwen, who in the 11 months since moving to his Wellington Avenue home with wife, Ulana, has planted 11 trees -- including evergreens, weeping willows, birches and beeches -- on his property.

"My attitude is, if you plant a tree, you're leaving a legacy," McEwen said. "Sometimes you get the pleasure of mature trees and sometimes you get the pleasure of watching them grow."

A few streets over, Jeannette DeMers looks fondly at her small Japanese maples, a few evergreens and a larger weeping cherry as "survivors" in her well-manicured front yard. All were pretty much split or crushed two years ago. Now, all enjoy new growth.

"They don't look very pretty," DeMers said. "But they beat the October storm. They're still here. They have character now. They lived."

This neighborhood, too, has character.

Residents and the town diligently cleared dead trees, trimmed back dead branches and replanted. It shows. Nearby Lincoln Park, which was devastated by the storm, has a fewdozen new trees inching up on mature brethren that survived the storm.

"The area really kind of recovered," said Tom Baumgartner of Parkhurst Boulevard. "It's kind of amazing."

In Amherst, town leaders are looking at a four- or five-year plan for replanting. So far, 5,500 of more than 11,000 trees identified as damaged have been removed.

Stump removal of those should be completed by the end of this month, said Amherst Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson.

Last year, the town planted 740 new trees, Anderson said. This year's total should reach 1,985.

Of the 620 trees that had to come down in the Town of Cheektowaga, 423 have been replaced. And in Buffalo, 3,000 trees already have been planted.

Re-Tree WNY has had a hand in all of those projects.

Using donations to buy trees and with volunteer labor, 5,500 trees have been planted since Arbor Day 2007.

Re-Tree volunteers -- including landscape architects and arborists -- have been at work in 20 communities, from southern Niagara County through central Erie County, from Grand Island east to the Genesee County line.

Although Re-Tree isn't doing plantings in Buffalo's Olmsted parks, it has donated money toward the park conservancy's re-treeing program.

The reforesting efforts are, however, facing challenges from budget restrictions -- with the average cost of a tree placed at $100.

The flood of financial support that followed the storm -- including five- and six-figure donations -- has slowed.

A fundraiser is scheduled Saturday to help refill the coffers.

"We are OK for this fall planting -- we've got enough," Maurer said. "But we are concerned about the spring of 2009."

Losing so many trees focused attention on which species are appropriate replacements.

Neither Re-Tree WNY nor several municipalities offer silver maples, once a staple of emerging neighborhoods.

The trees had become synonymous with fractured sidewalks, water and sewer obstructions, and utility line interference.

Ash trees are also off Re-Tree's list because they are targeted by a destructive Asian beetle.

To prevent mass devastation from diseases or pests, Re-Tree has planted 70 tree varieties.

The Town of Amherst is taking a similar approach. Amherst, which used to concentrate on five kinds of trees, now uses almost 30, Anderson said. Considerations include potential impact on utility lines and how well they stand up to road salt.

"There was a lot of thought put into this," Anderson said.

The survival rate of those first trees planted in 2007 has been good, officials said.

Dry spells during the summer of 2007 felled some in Buffalo, but the a recent wet summer proved to be a gift to the new trees.

"It wasn't the perfect summer for the residents, but it was for the trees," Rowles said.

Today, the second anniversary of Arborgeddon, should be a perfect day for both. Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s are forecast. It will be a great day for a fall planting of new trees.

And, there's no snow in sight.

What a difference two years makes.

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Closing the book on disaster aid

Federal aid to Western New York municipalities in the four counties affected. Totals for debris removal include, but aren't limited to, tree damage.

Erie County

Total aid: $98.2 million

Debris removal: $86.9 million

Niagara County

Total aid: $3.26 million

Debris removal: $2.54 million

Genesee County

Total aid: $2.25 million

Debris removal: $2.12 million

Orleans County

Total aid: $564,214

Debris removal: $380,265

Source:Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region II.

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