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Art attack! Waterfalls are killing DUMBO trees

Leaves like these are prematurely dried up, thanks to the "New York City Waterfalls" exhibition.
The Brooklyn Paper / Jessica Firger

The city’s hottest new public art project is killing trees at Brooklyn’s internationally beloved River Cafe.

One of the four parts of Olafur Eliasson’s “New York City Waterfalls” is spewing brackish East River water from under the Brooklyn Bridge onto trees at the legendary DUMBO eatery, turning leaves a burnt-orange color normally only seen in autumn.

“It’s the mist,” said arborist Dominick D’Alonzo of Dom’s Tree Services, which was hired by the Parks Department to handle the adverse side effects of this $15-million piece of modern art.

River Cafe owner Buzzy O’Keeffe noticed browning leaves on his linden, birch, and wisteria trees in late June, the New York Post reported on Tuesday. But only recently was the culprit confirmed: Eliasson’s artwork is an arborcidal maniac.

And some worry that it’s even hurting its human fans.

“The other day it was windy and we were getting a nice mist — but I had to wonder: what’s killing the trees and is it good for me?” asked Jake Nelson, a valet at the cafe.

Each waterfall is armed with a wind meter, which temporarily shuts the waterfall during strong gusts. But even without gale-force winds, the salty mist is easily transported in the air, explained Rochelle Steiner of the Public Art Fund.

“You never know how nature is going to react,” Steiner said.

The good news is that once Eliasson closes the valve on his watery project, the trees at River Cafe should make a full recovery.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said D’Alonzo, the arborist. “They’re probably going to even be healthier than before” because of all the TLC they’re now getting from professionals. (Eliasson was said to be traveling and could not be reached for comment.)

For his part, O’Keeffe has a high appreciation for art, said River Cafe manager Scott Stamford — but the ill effects of artwork have earned complaints from customers who not only enjoy the normally verdant surroundings, but often finish dessert to find that their car is covered with the tell-tale white crystal.

And as any restaurant-goer knows, too much salt has no place in a fine dining experience.

Autumn in New York: Salt-water spray from artist Olafur Eliasson’s “New York City Waterfalls” is killing trees downwind at the famed River Cafe.
The Brooklyn Paper / Jessica Firger

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