Village Beaches Are Great, but Trees Are in Trouble

       The beaches in East Hampton Village were largely a success story in 2013, the village board was told at its work session last Thursday, but its trees are suffering and in urgent need of protection.

       Olivia Brooks, chairwoman of the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s tree committee, and Michael Gaines of C.W. Arborists in Sagaponack told Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. and members of the board that construction and other vehicles that park over trees’ roots while at job sites are damaging them to the point that they may not be able to survive.

       Last summer, Ms. Brooks said, she had invited Mr. Gaines to help select a site for her committee’s arboretum tour. Instead, he had suggested a personal tour of the village’s street trees, to which she enthusiastically agreed. In mid-September, Ms. Brooks said, a tour included several sites that were “very disturbing.” These were construction sites “where homeowners have hired builders and contractors whose trucks, cars, and vans . . . are sitting on the village tree lawns over roots of our trees,” and often atop memorial plaques placed at trees by the L.V.I.S. A photo she distributed to the board depicted a plaque she said had been upended by a vehicle.

       “The reason I’m here is to ask you, as owners of the village trees, to consider a protection plan that is enforceable, perhaps by the building inspector, and ensures the perpetuity of the village trees.” Ms. Brooks suggested that the plan be part of the permitting process, prior to construction, “so homeowners are aware and responsible for the welfare of the trees on their village tree lawns.” Fencing, she said, “should also be of substance so vehicles do not run into or park over it.”

       Such damage, Mr. Gaines told the board, does not always become apparent until years later, but can result in the need for a tree’s removal after 10 years, “that maybe could have lived another 40, 50 years, indefinitely, under the right conditions.” Heavy machinery or vehicles atop a tree’s roots, he said, compact the soil, “and the air and water doesn’t move through soil like it needs to, to help these trees grow and flourish.” He agreed with Ms. Brooks on the need for “a program to begin at the very beginning of the construction process, followed through and enforced.”

       Richard Lawler, a board member, asked if there is a uniform area that would be designated around a tree to protect it. “It’s going to be very difficult for . . . the building inspector to enforce varying distances. . . . Do you have a recommendation?”

       There are standard industry practices, Mr. Gaines replied.

       Becky Molinaro, the village administrator, asked Mr. Gaines if there are other municipalities that have codified such a program. “That might make it easier for some of us, to take a look at things that are already enacted,” she said.

       “You’re identifying a valid concern,” Mayor Rickenbach said to Ms. Brooks and Mr. Gaines. “Let’s see if we can codify it further. Lets make it user-friendly but understand that we are doing it for a specific reason.” He asked Ms. Brooks and Mr. Gaines to provide information on other municipalities’ tree-protection programs to Ms. Molinaro’s office.

       Mr. Lawler asked Linda Riley, the village attorney, if such a plan could be included as a requirement in the building permit process. “I have to take a look at that,” Ms. Riley said.

       “If we could do it without codifying it into the code, I’d certainly like to pursue that,” Mayor Rickenbach said, “and make it part of the building permit process as applicable.”

       Ed McDonald, the village’s beach manager, then delivered his annual report to the mayor and members of the board with a summary of what he described as “a rollercoaster year.”

       Mr. McDonald said he and his crew faced an immediate crisis in April when they surveyed the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged beaches and the structures at Main Beach and Georgica Beach. At those beaches, he said, “there was very little beach left, the dunes were severely eroded.” Repairing the damage in time for Memorial Day weekend, he said, seemed impossible. 

       Fortunately, the village’s Department of Pubic Works removed sand from the parking lots and debris from everywhere, and a village-hired construction company “did a first-class job of making major repairs” at Main Beach. “Mother Nature did the rest,” Mr. McDonald said. “Luckily we had some very calm weather throughout the summer.” Unfortunately, “we did lose considerable dune” to Sandy, but “throughout summer it just got better and better.”

       Mr. McDonald described the crowds at village beaches as “so well behaved and well mannered.” He pointed to the village’s no-alcohol policy as playing a significant role in crowd behavior. “I’m hoping . . . maybe Mr. Cantwell can get that adopted in the town,” he said, in reference to Larry Cantwell, the former village administrator and incoming town supervisor.

       As the work session commenced, Mayor Rickenbach had extended his and the board’s best wishes to Mr. Cantwell and to Fred Overton and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, incoming members of the town board. “We wish them a great tenure, and I would underscore that the village looks forward to working in unison with town government on matters of municipal interest to both parties,” he said.