Long Beach is removing more than 1,400 trees killed or damaged by superstorm Sandy almost two years ago and will spend as much as $1.5 million to plant new trees this fall.
City workers started taking them down from the outer stretches of the barrier island community and are now focusing on removal along the northern edge, Long Beach Public Works Commissioner James LaCarrubba said.
"Sandy changed the landscape here in Long Beach in so many ways. This was just one of them," LaCarrubba said of the damaged or dead trees. "We want to replace them with healthy trees that can absorb storm water and improve our air quality."
Planting new trees will begin in the fall, the prime planting and growing season, city officials say.
Removing the dead or dying trees will cost nearly $20,000, but the city will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration at $14 per tree, officials said.
That storm recovery money for tree removal doesn't cover the $1.2 million to $1.5 million the city estimates it will cost to plant new ones. But the city is seeking reimbursement, citing the replanting as part of its recovery from a natural disaster.
Officials said the number of trees identified as killed or damaged by floodwaters from Sandy could rise as city workers and an arborist from Syosset-based The LiRo Group inspect trees throughout the city.
Crews are removing and replacing trees only on public property. Homeowners are responsible for dead or damaged trees on their own properties.
Long Beach Chamber of Commerce vice president Mark Tannenbaum called the effort an important step in the city's recovery.
"By replacing these trees, it helps make the city shine," Tannenbaum said. "It's the first thing that catches a tourist's eye and they will see a beautiful city."
The dead or dying trees, primarily London Plane Sycamores, were inundated with salt water, from 8 inches to 8 feet deep, that destroyed their root systems, LaCarrubba said.
"It became a public safety risk," he said. "Branches or the entire trees could come down and harm our residents."
The city will be planting mature trees that are about 12 to 18 feet tall, officials said. The type of trees selected will be based on a history of varieties that do well in flood-prone areas and climates similar to Long Beach's.
The arborist evaluated trees throughout Long Beach to determine their long-term health and whether they should be removed. The city directed the arborist to save as many trees as possible.
Dying trees have an obvious fading crown, no leaves, or a cavity and cracks in the bark. Recent growth in the trunk of dying trees shows no nutrients are making it past the ground level, LaCarrubba said.