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Woodbury couple to sue LIRR over 30 cut trees

Joe Berardino shows the damage to his property

Joe Berardino shows the damage to his property while in the side yard of his Woodbury home. (April 8, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Joe and Carol Berardino say the Long Island Rail Road owes them 30 trees.

The Woodbury couple heard a chorus of chain saws buzzing near the edge of their property one morning last December, so he went to investigate.

After walking down the slope leading to the LIRR tracks, Berardino said he found a crew cutting down mature trees, not on the railroad's right of way, but on the property the couple has owned for 48 years -- without their knowledge or permission.

Berardino, 79, said he complained to the men cutting the trees, who directed him to an LIRR supervisor on the scene.

"I told them they were on my property," Berardino said. He said the supervisor told him who to call at the railroad. "But they didn't stop."

Before they left, Berardino said, 30 mature and healthy trees undamaged by superstorm Sandy -- one 3 feet in diameter -- had been toppled.

Now after calling a list of railroad and elected officials and not getting any action, Berardino said, he has filed a notice of claim with the LIRR -- the first step in suing a public entity.

"I want it cleaned up," he said. "I want all of the stumps rooted out of there and I want 30 trees replaced, at a minimum 15 to 20 feet high."

Berardino said the trees were felled by a contractor, Looks Great Services Inc. of Huntington, which has been in the news for its work in Nassau County parks after the superstorm. Some county legislators and park advocates have accused the company of cutting undamaged trees to generate revenue. The Nassau County district attorney is looking into county contracts with firms that did cleanup work after Sandy.

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said Tuesday that because of possible litigation, "we cannot respond to Berardino's specific allegations. However, after superstorm Sandy the LIRR did remove a number of trees in this area, including some near overhead wires and LIRR tracks that presented possible safety concerns." Donovan added that "the LIRR's goal is to work closely with communities and property owners."

Looks Great spokeswoman Risa Heller said Wednesday, "We removed trees that posed a danger to the LIRR at the express direction of LIRR officials, and those officials were physically present at all times."

One of the elected officials Berardino contacted, county Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), said she could not get answers from the railroad either. She also complained that the contractor never came back to clean up the work site and remove all of the cut wood.

The stumps are up to 30 yards or more from the tracks and about 20 yards onto private property, according to Berardino's survey.

"In the summer when the leaves were out, they hid the railroad and deadened the sound," Berardino said. "It's diminished the value of the property."

His wife added: "It upsets me when I look down there now."

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