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Billy Crystal goes to bat for hometown Long Beach, urging feds to pay for new trees

Sen. Charles Schumer, left, and Billy Crystal, right,

Sen. Charles Schumer, left, and Billy Crystal, right, are seen in Long Beach on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014, where they asked for $2.5 million in government aid to replace 2,500 trees killed by superstorm Sandy. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Beach native Billy Crystal and Sen. Charles Schumer stumped for the city Monday, asking for $2.5 million in government aid to replace 2,500 trees killed by superstorm Sandy.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reach an agreement in the next month to fund the city's replacement of trees on public property and along roadways.

He gathered with Crystal and the Long Beach City Council on East Chester Street, a neighborhood where the storm had stripped the street of trees.

Crystal, who lived in Long Beach for 25 years until 1976, said the sycamore trees on the greenways across from his childhood home on Park Avenue are gone.

"Sycamores that have been here for 100 years are gone," Crystal said. "The public areas and parks need these trees. The kids need these trees. You can't just leave stumps around."

He said the push for federal funds was "not a beautification project."

"This is something we need," Crystal said. "This [area] was covered with four feet of saltwater for days and days."

Planting trees will help improve air quality and serve as better flood protection from the next storm, Crystal said.

FEMA will provide funding to cut down trees, but not for stump removal or to plant new trees. City officials estimate that removing trees will cost about $1.2 million and planting new trees could cost another $1.3 million. FEMA and HUD have disagreed over which agency should provide the funding, Schumer said.

"The bottom line is we need some help from Washington," Schumer said. "Long Beach will not be able to replace these trees without some federal reimbursement."

A FEMA spokesman said in a statement that the agency "has already obligated over $400,000 to the city of Long Beach for tree removal, and it will review the eligibility of additional requests when they are received."

Floodwaters from Sandy left about 45 percent of trees around Long Beach dying or decayed. The City Council in July approved a project to have an arborist inspect trees and determine which ones still need to be replaced. The project does not cover dead trees on private property.

Public works officials are developing a plan to plant mature trees that are 12 to 18 feet tall to replace those that are removed. Work is expected to begin this fall, City Manager Jack Schnirman said.

"We still need the funding for the replacement of these trees, and these are resources we just don't have," Schnirman said."

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