A Westbury woman’s journey to save a tree that has been in her family for decades ended Monday morning when a village contractor chopped it down to avoid further delays to a road pavement project.
Denise Casares, 45, had campaigned for about 10 days, including five where she was chained to the tree for approximately 10 hours daily, to avoid its removal. She said she was devastated to see the contractors cutting down the nearly 80-year-old pin oak tree, which had been there before her grandfather built the Ellison Avenue home in 1953.
“There are a lot of memories in this house, and this tree has been part of our life and now it’s gone,” Casares said Monday. “It looks so bizarre. It’s like a piece of me is missing.”
The village’s tree policy does not call for removal of healthy trees, Mayor Peter Cavallaro said, but this tree was identified by engineers as one of five that needed to be removed to complete the Ellison Avenue portion of the village’s repavement project. In past years, the tree has caused flooding in the area and its roots have lifted the sidewalk, Cavallaro said.
The sidewalk was previously repaired, but officials waited until the repavement of the road was scheduled to extract the tree. The multiyear resurfacing program, which aims to pave all village roads, is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
“It’s our obligation to do the roadwork in the best manner possible and spend our tax dollars in a way that’s appropriate,” Cavallaro said. “To do a job that is only done half properly is really not what we do as a village.”
Cavallaro said the Westbury officials presented Casares with an alternative option, where she would pay nearly $5,000 to install a drainage basin — which collects precipitation and directs it to a particular stream — and accepts liability for the tree moving forward. A notice with her options was provided to Casares last week and she was given three days to respond, according to Cavallaro.
After receiving the notice, Casares said she sought out legal advice regarding how to proceed, but had trouble finding an attorney until late Friday night, after the deadline. She presented the village another possibility that included her paying to repair and repave the road, along with raising the area around the tree to help with flooding, but said she never received a response.
“[Removing trees] is happening all over,” Casares said. “We’re in spring right now. Were there squirrels, nests, were there things living in there? These are ecosystems, and they just took it down like it was nothing.”
She said she plans to protest the removal of any other healthy trees in the village at the next board meeting on Thursday.
“You can kick me down, but I’m not going to stay down,” Casares said.
The village is planning to plant three smaller trees in place of the large oak.
“We try to make the best of it, and we always plant more trees than we take down,” the mayor said.
— The average life span of an oak tree is between 150 and 300 years.
— Depending on species and growing conditions, oak trees can grow from 40 to 80 feet, and some over 100 feet tall.
— Over the course of a year, 100 trees can remove 53 tons of carbon dioxide and pull 430 pounds of other pollutants from the air.
Source: Forestwildlife.org and North American Forest Foundation