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City to start removing storm-damaged trees Inspection finds 4,000 are structurally unsafe

The first of nearly 4,000 maples, lindens, elms and other trees in Buffalo to be cut down this summer will begin falling Monday -- additional victims of the surprise October snowstorm.

Tree-cutting crews will start in the neighborhoods near the University at Buffalo's South Campus, but they eventually will descend on every city neighborhood, except for the waterfront.

"There will be some people heartbroken," said Arthur Traver of Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers, the city's urban forestry manager. "We'll go out and do some hand-holding."

But there will be no eleventh-hour reprieve.

"We have to look at public safety," Traver said. "The trees will come down."

The damaged trees stand within the city's rights of way, and crews might have to work through the summer to cut them all, Traver said.

Crews will become a familiar sight on the East Side, particularly around the Schiller Park neighborhood, a Buffalo News analysis shows.

Nearly 1,000 trees, or one of every four on City Hall's tree-removal list, will be cut down in the Schiller Park, Kensington and LaSalle neighborhoods, where the October storm damaged a disproportionate number of trees.

Phyllis and Davidson avenues, residential streets less than a mile long between Bailey Avenue and Eggert Road, will lose 49 and 41 trees, respectively, more than any other street in the city. Twenty-three streets will each lose 24 or more trees, including McKinley Parkway and Delaware, Kensington, Crescent and Minnesota avenues.

But crews won't be seen much in some areas, like Hamlin Park, Willert Park and Grant-Ferry, where only a few dozen damaged trees still stand.

City officials already have heard from residents unhappy about losing trees near their homes.

A week ago, City Hall sent thousands of notices to city residents who live next to trees scheduled to be cut down.

Since receiving the letters, 270 residents called the Mayor's Complaint Line and Common Council offices. Nearly two-thirds asked the city to plant new trees after the damaged ones are removed. The rest called to either complain or learn more about what led to the decision to remove the trees.

Some residents like Donna Vullo wonder why the rush to cut some of the trees.

Five trees near her home by McKinley Circle in South Park are on the removal list. Only a handful of homeowners would lose as many trees as Vullo.

The state several years ago paid for new decorative lighting, plantings, benches, curbs and sidewalks at McKinley Circle.

"Aesthetically, it would be horrible if we lost these trees," she said. "If they're dead, they should take them down. But I think it's a little premature. They should give it some time to see if they'll come back."

Traver said he understands that sentiment.

But the trees, while alive, are not structurally safe, Traver said.

Not all residents are unhappy.

John Hummel said he will be relieved when the city cuts down the silver maple in front of his Eden Street home in South Buffalo.

"It's kind of a hazard," Hummel said.

That tree is the biggest on the removal list, with a diameter of 57 inches. Three-fourths of the condemned trees have a diameter of 24 or fewer inches.

While the tree provided plenty of shade in the summer, it lost too many branches during the October storm. And the remaining branches look like they could fall off anytime.

"I'm glad they're taking care of it," he said.

Trees made the removal list after three inspections.

City building inspectors and consultants conducted initial inspections of some 70,000 trees after the storm.

They identified which trees appeared to be significantly damaged.

Then, Olmsted Parks Conservancy tree care supervisor Jeff Brett, a certified arborist, inspected each tree a second time and recommended which ones should be removed.

About 10 percent to 20 percent of the condemned trees have split trunks or broken branches that expose the heartwood. The majority have more than 50 percent of the leaf-bearing crown damaged or destroyed, Traver said.

In all, the arborist recommended removing 3,990 trees. Almost one-half are maples, including 860 Norway maples. The 782 silver maples comprise the second-biggest tree type on the condemned list.

During a third inspection, the condemned trees were measured and photographed. And city officials verified the trees were within the city rights of way.

Almost 3,400 trees were cut down in the city in the weeks right after the storm. So the city will end up losing nearly 7,500 trees.

"Please understand that the city does not wish to lose any more of its trees, and it pains all of us to see another tree removed," Mayor Byron W. Brown said in the letter. "Rest assured that the primary reason for the removal of the tree is for public safety."

While residents cannot appeal the decisions, they can call the mayor's call and resolution center at 851-4890 by Friday to request more information about a tree and why it's being cut.

Residents should also call the center to request the planting of a new tree at their address.

A new tree typically costs about $300. The city should be able to pay for a couple of thousand replantings in the coming year, said acting Public Works Commissioner Daniel E. Kreuz.

The $1 million proposed budget for trees is about double what the city has spent on plantings and maintainence in previous years, Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said.

Some of the money in the tree budget will be used for trimming and possibly stump removal, she said.

"There is so much that needs to be done as a result of the storm," she said.

Staff Reporter Brian Meyer contributed to this report.

-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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