City stops axe men from clearing downed trees, critics say

Locked and loaded: The Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol members show some of the tools they used to cut their way through Hurricane Sandy’s path of destruction, including two chainsaws and a jet ski that the crew kept on standby in case they had to zip up a flooded Oriental Boulevard.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Talk about being cut off!

The city slapped down a volunteer group’s plan to cut up uprooted trees blocking Brooklyn streets in Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, claiming that residents shouldn’t become emergency lumberjacks — even if the Parks Department can’t handle the job.

Once Hurricane Sandy left the city, Flatbush Shomrim founder Chaim Deutsch and his team began cutting up and carting off more than 75 uprooted trees blocking roads and preventing first responders and supply trucks from getting around Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, and Brighton Beach — until the city shut them down.

“We had a little problem with the Parks Department,” said Deutsch, who claimed that a Parks Department official told him to leave all the fallen trees left on city streets alone. “He said we’re not supposed to be doing that, but I said in a crisis, I’ll do whatever I have to.”

City officials told Deutsch that if the fallen tree wasn’t causing an emergency, its date with a mulch pile will have to wait two weeks — something a man with a gassed-up chainsaw at the ready can’t fathom.

“We already did a large part of the Parks Department’s job by cutting down 75 trees,” the safety patrol leader said.

Parks Department officials say that only agency foresters and contractors with special permits can take an axe to a city tree — even in an emergency. Even if a tree falls on private property, the homeowner must hire a contractor who would then have to get the Parks Department’s permission to touch the perennial plant.

“Non-certified foresters who do not have permission from Parks should not go out with chainsaws and remove trees,” said Parks Department spokeswoman Megan Lalor. “It’s dangerous.”

But the city’s redwood-hard policy has left a lot of Southern Brooklyn homeowners with fallen trees in front of their homes barking mad.

“The Parks Department does not do a good job with trees,” said Sheepshead Bay resident Allen Popper. “They do a terrible job. Chaim Deutsch and the Flatbush Shomrim were doing everything Bloomberg’s people should have done.”

Deutsch says he’s put down his chainsaw, but is ready to pick it up again if another Hurricane Sandy-type emergency hits the borough.

“You cannot rely on the city, because the city doesn’t always have the resources,” Deutsch said. “We prepare ourselves, on our own, to help as much as possible.”

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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