Woodside locals irked as Amtrak takes the ax to more than 100 trees

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The federal stimulus may be pumping greenbacks into the economy but it's also making a part of Woodside, N.Y., distinctly less green, the New York Daily News reports. Locals are steamed over Amtrak's brush-clearing effort that recently chopped down more than a hundred mature trees along rails running parallel to Northern Blvd.

Homeowner George Olt, 69,
whose property on 56th Place abuts the land owned by Amtrak, said he began hearing
buzz saws near his lush backyard on April30. By the next day, some 200 trees –
more than 100 of them exceeding about 2 feet in diameter – had been felled, Olt

"It’s not like the
trees were dead," said Olt, a retired transit worker who has lived in the
same home for 26 years. "They were in full bloom."

The leafy trees also
acted as a noise buffer from passing trains, he and neighbors said.

Most of the felled trees
– along a 200-foot section of the railway – were rooted more than 50 feet from
the tracks, said Olt, who was skeptical of the railroad’s claim that the
clearing project would improve safety.

The project was funded by
federal stimulus money and is part of a nationwide initiative to upgrade infrastructure,
said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Coles. Coles conceded the trees "may not be
located directly on our right of way" but was a precautionary step.

"We still must take
measures to reduce the risk of falling trees, branches and other debris that
land on our right of way, overhead wire and signal system," Coles said.

Sandra Conway, who also
lives on 56th Place, said the sudden loss of habitat seems to have confused
local wildlife.

"At 6 a.m. squirrels
were picking at our garbage," Conway said. "We’ve never seen that

The timing of the project
has also stung local environmental groups. The tree-clearing comes as hundreds
of others were planted in Woodside as part of the Mayor Bloomberg’s
MillionTreesNYC initiative.

"We didn’t gain
anything," said Anthony Gigantello, president of Coalition Helping
Organize a Kleaner Environment, or CHOKE, based in Long Island City.

Coles said residents can
call Amtrak’s hotline to voice concerns about the project’s impact. But that’s
too little, too late, locals said.

"I’m just
exasperated," Conway said. "They just steamrolled through here."

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