Investigations

Safety concerns due to cutbacks in tree trimming

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Eyewitness News investigators are looking into your safety in New York parks.

Budget cutbacks have led to fewer trees being trimmed. Is that putting your safety in danger?

Three deaths in 3 years because of falling trees. We found revealing numbers inside budget reports which show deep cuts in tree maintenance that could have contributed to the dangers from above.

When a rotted branch cracked off a huge oak tree and killed a pregnant woman last month, it marked the 3rd death-by-park tree since 2010.

"She always smiling, always there for me," said Aleksander Dikov, husband of the victim, Yingyi Dikov.

The seeds of these tragedies may have been planted when the city slashed funding for tree maintenance. Our investigation found that from 2007 to 2009, the city spent more than $15 million on pruning park trees.

Compare that to the last 3 years, where the city spent just $5 million to trim trees, more than a 65-percent cut.

"We really hit a low point. A point that created dangerous conditions," said Holly Leicht, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks.

Leicht says the deep cuts in the pruning budget clearly put people at risk:

"There is a direct correlation between the money that is put in for contracting for prunners and how many trees can be pruned," said Leicht.

We found proof of that direct correlation, which we found deep inside Park Performance Reports. During the 3 years when the city budgeted $15 million for maintenance, it pruned 189,000 trees. The following three years with funds gutted, pruning dropped to just 90,000 trees.

There was a rash of accidents involving park trees and some say that was due to this drop back in maintenance and pruning.

Liam Kavanagh/Deputy Commissioner NYC Parks: "It's hard to really say whether they're connected," said Liam Kavanagh, Deputy Commissioner of New York City Parks.

He concedes the deep cuts during the recession trimmed their pruning efforts by half, but he says money for tree maintenance has been restored:

"We have 50 new positions in the forestry area and we added new contract money in our budget that's been base-lined so it will be there every year," Kavanagh said.

Cutting the tree maintenance budget can end up costing the city more than it saves. Last year, the city paid a man seriously injured by a fallen tree $12 million in damages.

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