Nassau audit: Looks Great's tree cutting OK
Nassau Comptroller George Maragos found no evidence of indiscriminate tree cutting in the Welwyn Preserve by Looks Great Services Inc. after superstorm Sandy, despite complaints from preserve advocates, according to an audit to be released Thursday.
"In fact the tree cuts observed were trees diseased or insect-ridden or blocking paths in this densely wooded area," Maragos said.
Preserve advocates disagree. "I would welcome walking around Welwyn with him and showing him where he's wrong," said Michael Miller, who says he walks 3 miles a day through the 204-acre preserve in Glen Cove. "They took down trees that I know from my everyday experience would not have fallen."
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Maragos' office Wednesday provided a section of the audit that addresses Welwyn. Spokesman Jostyn Hernandez said the remainder justifies widespread tree-cutting along Shelter Rock and Searingtown roads after Sandy hit Oct. 29.
David Arnold, a Looks Great spokesman, said, "We've said all along that the facts were irrefutable: Looks Great removed only those trees that were explicitly selected by the county, and our work was digitally documented and cataloged by inspectors at every step of the way. We thank the comptroller for taking a careful and dispassionate look at the facts."
Welwyn neighbors and advocates complained of a "chainsaw massacre" when crews for Looks Great, a Huntington tree service, entered the preserve in late November and felled trees for five days. They contended crews were taking down trees arbitrarily to increase reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. County public works officials said the trees were damaged and dangerous.
Deputy Public Works Commissioner Rich Millet told lawmakers that a crew paid per tree was mistakenly sent into Welwyn, but he replaced them with a crew paid for their time and materials. However, Newsday found the county paid Looks Great for each tree cut or felled in Welwyn.
Maragos confirmed Looks Great was paid per tree, but added, "Both 'per tree' and 'time and material' are considered acceptable methods by FEMA."
The audit said an outside engineering firm, acting as a monitor, approved felling 138 Welwyn trees in November. Public works records show the county paid for 141 trees. Hernandez could not explain the discrepancy.
Nassau awarded Looks Great nearly $70 million in emergency contracts after Sandy. Local and state prosecutors are investigating how the company and other debris removal firms on Long Island were hired and whether they paid workers appropriate wages. Looks Great has denied any wrongdoing.