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Nassau legislator still wants answers about tree removal firm

Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove)

Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) (Credit: Handout)

Before County Comptroller George Maragos began asking for documentation and before District Attorney Kathleen Rice issued subpoenas, Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) was asking questions about Looks Great Services, Inc. of Huntington, a tree debris removal firm hired by the county for nearly $70 million.

For months after superstorm Sandy, DeRiggi-Whitton pressed for answers about Looks Great bills and work sheets despite numerous attempts to shut down her questioning, including:

-- Looks Great threatened to sue her for defamation after she questioned their bills during a legislative session;

 -- Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) accused her in writing of attempting “to derail efforts to restore life as best as possible” for Sandy victims when she asked for Looks Great invoices and other backup documentation;

-- Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), chairman of the county’s Finance Committee, consistently blocked her efforts to discuss the $68.8 million in Looks Great contracts, saying her questions were out of order because only the Rules Committee votes on contracts. DeRiggi-Whitton is not a member of the Rules Committee.

-- And County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, never responded to her letter asking that they work together to replant downed trees.

Looks Great maintains it has followed every governmental rule and requirement and has worked cooperatively with local, federal and state agencies.

But DeRiggi-Whitton wants proof. “I’m going to keep on going at it and seeing what I can do and seeing what kind of response I can get,” she said after learning this week that the district attorney had subpoenaed Looks Great records.

She and Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) Thursday asked Gonsalves and Nicolello to invite Maragos to brief the legislature on Sandy-related issues.

The comptroller last week asked Looks Great and 11 other firms hired for Sandy cleanup to submit payroll and expense records. He and Mangano's administration said the county did not have the usually required subcontractor names and employee lists for Looks Great because of the emergency nature of the work.

DeRiggi-Whitton started raising questions about Looks Great after its crews chopped down more than 100 trees in the Welwyn Preserve in her district a month after Sandy. Park advocates, environmentalists, preserve neighbors immediately complained, accusing the county of taking down trees indiscriminately.

County officials acknowledged that a crew paid for each tree cut down initially was sent into the preserve but was replaced with a crew paid for time worked when the error came to light. They maintain however, that only trees that were damaged and dangerous were taken down.

Subsequently residents and community leaders complained about Looks Great chopping down trees along Searingtown and Shelter Rock roads, leaving long lines of stumps where flowering trees once stood. County public works officials say the trees were mostly Bradford Pears severely damaged by Sandy's winds.

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