Fallen trees milled into rebuilding supplies

Patrick Slutter brushes saw dust off wood cut Patrick Slutter brushes saw dust off wood cut with a sawmill in Dix Hills Park. The wood, from fallen trees during superstorm Sandy, will be used for town projects. (Dec. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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The lumber is stacked neatly in about a dozen piles, some as high as 8 feet. The planks -- about 10 feet long on average, and 10 to 12 inches wide -- are ready to be used.

This is not a home improvement store, but a parking lot in a Town of Huntington park strewn with logs, trees, branches and brush. And the pile of lumber has been growing daily for the past three weeks.

In an unusual response to the destruction wrought by superstorm Sandy, the town has taken to milling its fallen trees for lumber.

The idea came from town resident Harry Slutter, a self-proclaimed "plant geek" who sells plants to garden centers, among others. He also owns his own hydraulic mill to process lumber for the furniture he builds as a hobby.

Slutter, 53, pitched his plan in a letter to town officials, and it struck a chord with Highway Superintendent William Naughton, who recalled a saying from his childhood "that nothing is so bad that some good cannot be made of it."

Naughton hired Slutter to mill the town's Sandy-felled trees.

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"There was so much destruction," said David McLuckie, Naughton's executive assistant, noting that Sandy knocked down thousands of trees in Huntington. "It seemed like it was a crying shame that nothing could be salvaged."

Slutter said he often works with reclaimed materials when he builds, and this initiative will allow the town to do the same. Huntington officials plan to use the lumber to build such items as benches, barricades and sign legs.

"It was a shame that all this material was getting dumped in landfill or ground up," said Slutter, who set up shop in Dix Hills Park, one of the sites where the town is bringing the vegetative debris from the storm. His bright orange mill is stationed in a corner of one of the parking lots, in front of a towering pile of trees, logs, branches and brush.

He has been working, on and off, for about three weeks and has processed about 300 trees. The end products look like the stacks of lumber found in commercial stores and nothing like the large logs they once were.

McLuckie said he didn't know exactly what Slutter will be paid by the town, but estimated it will pay about $200 per hour for the use of the mill, including blades and fuel and for its operators. Slutter has had help with the milling from other workers.

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After seeing Slutter's output, town officials are evaluating whether to buy a small sawmill to keep generating their own lumber.

"We have hundreds of trees that come down every year," McLuckie said. "We buy a lot of wood and it seems like it would be smart."

Besides the savings, said Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, "At least some of the debris left in the storm's wake will help become part of the rebuilding process."

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