August 6, 2010 - Central Park. A private landscape company hired by the Central Park Conservancy prunes trees near the bridal path on the West side of the park. (photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge.
According to documents obtained by the New York Post, numerous delays were found in tending to dangerous trees in Central Park. Parks Department spokesperson Vickie Karp told the paper that the Central Park Conservancy was not required to give the reporter the information requested for her report on tree safety.
In one case, a pest-infected tree on the verge of dropping heavy branches onto a pedestrian walkway was slated for removal -- twice -- but nothing was done. In February, seven months after the initial warnings, a limb from the tree struck and killed an Albanian immigrant, Elmaz Qyra.
The unheeded warnings are documented in a voluminous database -- provided only grudgingly after weeks of questioning by The Post -- of 13,867 Central Park trees. The conservancy, a private organization tasked by the city with maintaining Central Park, "didn't even have to give you this report," a Parks Department spokeswoman said. Yet taxpayers will shoulder the cost of the multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed in the two deaths and two serious injuries that have occurred in the park because of falling tree limbs in the past 13 months.
The first major incident happened in July 2009, when Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn was hit by a 100-pound oak limb, suffering brain and spinal-cord damage. Conservancy records show that tree had been inventoried in December 2007, but no inspections or work on the tree were recorded until after he was injured.
The accident reversed what had been a trend of the conservancy spending less and less on tree maintenance. Funding for care had dropped to $282,450 in the fiscal year ending June 2009, from $472,352 two years before. It jumped back up to $386,698 in the fiscal year ending in June. From July 2008 to June 2009, meanwhile, the conservancy performed 3,941 maintenance tasks on its trees, records show. In the year after Blair-Goldensohn's injury, the number of maintenance tasks soared to 14,245.
Karla del Gallo, 33, and her six-month-old baby Gianna Ricciutti, who was killed by a fallen tree limb in Central Park. (photo: Robert Miller)