Last Saturday, June 28, workers from the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) started work on Burns Street in Forest Hills to cut down yet another tree that the LIRR claims was in danger of falling over the tracks.
But residents who live at 6 Burns Street in the Tennis View Apartments picketed their actions, claiming that the LIRR failed to reach out to the community in an adequate amount of time to let them know.
“We found out about this last Wednesday, they informed me that they would be here on Saturday to take down the tree,” said Russ Gundlach, a resident at 6 Burns Street who has fought before to stop the LIRR from destroying the neighborhood’s quality of life.
Gundlach, who works from home, noticed workers surveying the land last week and when he went out to inquire, he realized what was happening.
“We as neighbors want to be aware of what they’re doing,” he said.
Residents are asking for accurate information and notification from the railroad because of past deception. In 2007, the LIRR cut down a number of large trees from Station Square at Ascan Avenue. It also tore down a wall that residents said acted as a sound barrier.
“They sent letters and told us it was pruning, but when they showed up, most of us were on our way to work, they took away all the large trees,” Gundlach said.
The LIRR claimed that the trees posed a safety threat to the tracks and that the wall did not protect the neighborhood from the sound of passing trains.
“I don’t quite understand the rationale,” said Anna Guasto, another resident of 6 Burns and president of the residents’ LIRR Committee, who organized the picket on Saturday. “If the tree didn’t manage to come down during the microburst, if those winds didn’t tear it down, why now?”
The LIRR claims that it did inform Community Board 6 of its actions, but district manager Frank Gulluscio said he did not hear of the new action to cut the tree down until Friday night. The LIRR insisted to him that it was an emergency issue that could not be delayed.
“We are opposed to it and have always been opposed to it,” he said.
The residents are more concerned now because Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was forced to resign in scandal last week, was a champion of their cause.
“With the possible elimination of his district, we don’t know who to turn to,” Gundlach said.
“He was our voice and now we have nobody,” Gusto added.
Weiner’s office was working to secure funding to rebuild the wall that the LIRR removed and replant the trees that were cut down. Weiner had also sponsored a town hall meeting in efforts to bring LIRR officials in talks with residents.
“They promised they would rebuild the wall and replant the trees,” Gundlach said.
Residents are asking that trees get replanted the way they did in other neighborhoods, such as Woodside.
“Why is the LIRR so reticent to agree to make good on a promise to replant here in Forest Hills?” Gundlach asked. “And why after a four year hiatus are we now seeing them coming in to cut more trees and shrubs in our neighborhood with no input from the community and but three days notice?”
Mary Logerfo, who also lives in the Tennis View Apartments, says the quality of life on the block has been severely affected.
“It’s horrendous, you feel the vibrations from the train and the noise since they took the wall down,” she said. “You hear the trains all night long and every day when I come home. I have chips of plaster that are falling down. You can’t hear anyone on the phone when the train goes by and it was never like that.”
In 2009, the Tennis View Apartments Co-op board commissioned a study, conducted by Cerami & Associates, to test out the sound levels. The study found that increased sound levels from passing trains was at least 10 decibels above the background noise in the apartments with windows closed and about 20 decibels higher with windows open.
Residents have also reached out to the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation asking for their help to address the issue. The corporation installed new sidewalks and planted small trees to replace those lost.
Salvatore Areana, an LIRR spokesperson, said the LIRR is in constant contact with the residents in Forest Hills. “To suggest there hasn’t been any dialogue is not the truth,” he said.
But Guasto and Gundlach disagree.
“Hopefully we can turn a new leaf here, but it takes two sides to make a negotiation come about,” said Gundlach.