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Re-Tree seeks reimbursement extension Says damaged trees' viability is uncertain

Despite the best efforts of experts, volunteers and local officials, the fate of many of the area's most damaged trees won't become apparent until next spring, spokesmen for Re-Tree Western New York said Thursday.

As a result, Re-Tree and its supporters want a one-year extension of the federal deadline for reimbursing localities for the costs of removing dangerous trees from public areas.

The hope is that if the deadline is moved to October 2008, some trees now slated for possible removal might defy the odds and survive, supporters say.

"Trees are tough. They can't go to the doctor, so they find other ways to survive," arborist Jeremy Sayers, also known as "The Tree Doctor," said at a news conference on Eggertsville's Maynard Avenue.

Re-Tree leader Paul Maurer said the group chose the location as the backdrop for the announcement because it represented an average amount of damage from the October storm.

In Washington, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., joined the call, asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an extension of the deadline to October 2008.

He said the current deadline will not allow Buffalo and other municipalities to determine whether damaged trees will recover enough to avoid removal. Schumer also said extending the deadline will avoid the cost of felling salvageable trees and save taxpayers money.

Across metropolitan Buffalo, the estimated costs for tree removals range into the millions of dollars. In Amherst alone, about 10,800 trees that present possible safety problems are being considered for removal at an estimated cost of more than $3 million.

Amherst Supervisor Satish B. Mohan, who also spoke at the news conference, said the town will move ahead with the removals of nearly 1,100 of the trees described as "critical" or "dead," but town officials would be willing to give the other 90 percent of the trees more time to recover.

Supporters of the extension also want the public to join in the plea, urging that the trees should not be cut down merely because of the approaching deadline.

Maurer said those wishing to take part may visit the Re-Tree Western New York Web site (www.re-treewny.org) and download a sign supporting the reprieve for damaged trees. The sign may be tied to a tree slated for removal.

Under federal rules, only cleanup work completed in the 12 months after the storm would normally be eligible for federal reimbursements.

But Re-Tree officials and their supporters say the deadline is forcing localities to consider felling some trees that might survive wounds left by the storm, or face the risk of paying for the costs of removals after the October deadline. Following an ice storm in Rochester, city officials were able to save 76 percent of the trees they tried to save; but those trees also had been professionally pruned, leaving them in better condition to deal with the storm than many trees in this area, Re-Tree officials said.

Some local experts believe that up to half of the trees on the area's public right of ways may be capable of recovering.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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