When the Brooklyn and Queens communities surrounding Highland Park were told that Phase 1 of the Ridgewood Reservoir project was going to proceed, they were happy, because new paths, handicapped access and better lighting were sorely needed. Everyone was assured that existing trees would not be harmed during construction, with oversight and protection provided so that they suffered minimal impact. However, that is not what is happening and this is just one more example of how the city agency tasked with being the stewards of our open spaces has failed us, either through apathy, ignorance or corruption.
The large 150 year old Planetrees that line Vermont Place at the edge of the Ridgewood Reservoir have had their wide spreading root systems compacted and then buried in 5-8 feet of fill and soils at the approval of the Parks Capital Project Administrator and the Capital Arborist. The Forest Park administrator is aware of this problem but "will not interfere with Capital".
Clearly unenforced is the department's Tree and Landscape Protection Plan. Below is an excerpt of the NYC Parks and Recreation: Parks Tree Preservation Protocols (Sept 2009) that present the rules and protocol by which construction operations shall occur when within proximity to and under the canopy of large public trees. Numerous large and impressive veteran parkland London Planetrees that line Vermont Place at the reservoir provide important ecological, environmental and social benefits to park users and the neighboring communities. The London Planetrees within a construction site are candidates for the extraordinary preservation (and protection) protocols needed and so outlined by this document.
Yet over the past 4-5 months Parks Dept. Capital landscape architect and engineering operations failed to see these veteran trees both in design and now during construction. And in the absence of effective protection fencing they have directed their general contractor, the movement of his machinery and the storage of soil atop of the tree’s critical root zones (CRZ, (see Tree Protection in Design, item d), with known consequences to tree health and stability.
The preservation of CRZ as part of Parks tree policy is essential for the organisms long-term well being. So that roots are to able to breathe, acquire nutrients, water resources and minimize risk by ensuring tree stability. More so are the environmental benefits offered by these trees in their ability to efficiently sequester carbon, absorb dangerous air-borne particles, off-set the heat island affect, ameliorate the climate and significantly reduce rates of childhood asthma. But by deliberate negative impacts from construction not only has tree health and stability been comprised but those essential environmental benefits as they affect human health and longevity, have been critically diminished and made so less efficient.
Vermont Place trees prior to contruction:
Vermont Place trees currently:
NYC Parks and Recreation Parks Tree Preservation Protocols (Sept 2009)
How Construction Hurts Trees
Trees grow in a delicate balance with their environment and any changes to that balance must be minimized if the tree is to remain in a healthy state and fulfill its useful life potential. Tree decline and death on or adjacent to construction sites frequently occurs due to the vulnerability of the root system. Roots are cut or damaged when installing utilities, sewers, foundations, driveways, curbs, sidewalks, etc. Roots are also lost due to grading, soil pollution and soil compaction. Other more obvious damage to trees comes in the form of physical wounding to bark and branches from vehicles, cranes, scaffolding, and storage of materials. Construction damage may take several years to become apparent in the trees affected and often results in their slow decline and death long after the project has been completed. It should be noted that younger trees and certain species can be more tolerant to construction disturbance than older trees.
Tree Protection in Design
Tree protection begins in the planning and design stages of every project. From decisions made about utility placement and grading, to the location of curbs and equipment and work staging areas, the amount of damage that trees sustain throughout the construction process is often determined on paper long before construction begins. A critical element of tree protection is the protection of the soil and the root systems growing within that soil. Root systems often extend far beyond the drip line of the tree canopy. Disturbance of the root system can result in severe injury to the tree. Each project should have a Certified Arborist Report (CAR) detailing the following:
a. A scaled plan of the area, including the existing and proposed locations of all building structures and utilities. Buildings should also include maximum vertical heights.
b. The locations of all existing trees identified by common and/or botanical name, condition and diameter at breast height. Condition assessment should follow the method detailed in the International Society of Arboriculture’s Guide for Plant Appraisal . The site plan should clearly identify which trees are to be retained, which are to be transplanted and which are to be removed.
c. The location of perimeter and protective fencing around each tree or group of trees.
d. The locations of all Critical Root Zones (CRZs), defined as the area for each tree which contains the estimated minimal amount of both structural and feeder roots that must be protected to minimize tree damage and retain structural stability. The CRZ for each tree is calculated based on the Tree Species Tolerance to construction impacts and age class, as outlined in the International Society of Arboriculture’s Best Management Practices: Managing Trees During Construction (K. Fite, T. Smiley, 2008). Although CRZs will differ by species and tree age, zones range from ½ foot per one inch DBH (diameter at breast height) to 1½ foot per one inch DBH. If the species tolerance is unknown, then the 1½ foot per one inch DBH standard is assumed. See detail No. 1.
e. The locations of all new plantings.
f. The location of storage areas and access routes within the site to be used during construction.
g. The location of any cranes, scaffolding, hoists and/or similar which would potentially interfere with tree canopies.
h. The location and design of any foundations adjacent to trees and also detailing any required overcuts.
i. Details of any grade changes.
j. Locations of utilities. All utility locations, depth, and size must be specified on plans. Utility installation and grading activities should avoid the fenced in areas; if working within the CRZ is absolutely necessary, however, then trenchless construction techniques must be specifiedto minimize root damage.
k. Locations of site activities. Construction site activities such as access routes, staging areas, materials and equipment stockpiling, truck or tool washing, etc. shall be located as to prevent disturbances to the CRZs.
l. Curb and pathway installation. Curb installation adjacent to existing trees should be avoided. Soft surfaces should be used for paths near trees. If curb replacement is necessary, consider using steel-facing without concrete curb adjacent to tree roots rather than excavating with machinery for mechanical forms.
General Requirements for all Work
The protection measures must be in place prior to the start of work, including demolition. The following requirements must be adhered to during construction:
a. Treatment of tree roots. No roots over one (1) inch diameter should be shaved or cut without the written permission of Parks. If small roots must be cut this should be done with a sharp implement to leave a clean finish. Use of heavy equipment such as a backhoe to cut roots is prohibited.
b. Pruning. All contact between equipment and overhead tree limbs should be avoided. Bending or breakage of limbs is prohibited. If clearance pruning is proposed, it shall not take place without the written permission of the Agency, and shall only be performed with professional equipment as per the Agency’s standards and specifications for such work. No trees shall be pruned or removed without the written permission of the Agency. Tree work is to be performed by an arborist holding certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The Agency is to receive notification 48 hours before any tree work is to begin.
c. Fencing. Fencing will be specified by the Borough Forestry Director. The minimum fencing material for low impact sites is four (4) feet orange plastic on flanged posts. Please see detail No. 2. For larger impact projects, five (5) foot chain-link on posts sunk into the ground with props may be more appropriate. Please see detail No. 3. Tree protection fences cannot be moved at any time without the written permission of the Borough Forestry Director. The fences must be maintained on a regular basis and repaired and/or re-staked as needed. Tree protection zone signs should be attached to these fences as shown in detail No. 4.
d. Tree guards. All trees within the construction area (outside of the protective fencing) shall be encircled with wooden tree guards built to Parks’ specifications. Please see detail No. 5.
e. Tree trunk protection. In addition to the tree guards, each tree must be wrapped with an appropriate protective material (as approved by the Borough Forester’s representative) as extra protection from physical wounding. Appropriate materials may be, but are not limited to, roadway drainage geocomposite.
f. Stockpiling of materials. Under no circumstances should equipment and materials be stockpiled within the fenced areas.
g. Disposal of wastewater and other debris. No contaminants or wastewater from construction activities should be disposed of within or around protected areas.
h. Parking. No vehicle shall be parked within or driven into the fenced areas.
i. Grade changes. All grade changes within the fenced areas should be avoided. If grade changes are called for within the CRZ, follow the specific requirements below.
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