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City tree planting gone awry cost homeowner thousands

Tree planting left homeowner in the pits

New sidewalk and blacktop mark where tree planting crews were forced to make repairs outside 1630 Research Avenue in Spencer Estate after improperly digging a hole for a tree. The home incurred thousands of dollars in damages due to flooding, according to residents.
Bronx Times
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Residents of a Spencer Estate home are looking for compensation from the city after an attempt to plant a sidewalk tree led to thousands of dollars in home damages.

The owner at 1630 Research Avenue said they knew not to dig beneath the sidewalk in front of the multi-family home, due to the fact that the underground sewer line ran close to the surface.

So when a NYC Parks-hired contractor began breaking up the concrete to install a tree bed, Abiezer Moto, who lives in the second floor apartment, said he filed a 311 complaint, but said it fell on deaf ears.

“The [contractor] wrote a letter back, saying the city had researched [the location] thoroughly, and it was a good place for a tree,” he said.

Before a sidewalk tree is planted several city agencies and utility companies survey the site for the location of underground lines.

On Thursday, May 25, just a few days after the work had been completed, the ground floor tenant started getting a sewage backup into their apartment from the toilet.

Also a large sinkhole had formed at the site of the newly dug tree pit.

The landlord, Alex Avellino, had to replace the house’s damaged sewer line, which totaled around $20,000, Moto said.

Now Avellino has to sue the city to recover the cost of the damage caused by the contractor.

“Its crazy with this ridiculous bureaucracy that Alex has to go through to get his money back, when we warned the city long before this problem happened,” he said.

Ironically, there was already an existing unused tree pit in front of the house, a few feet away from the new dig, that wasn’t being used, the tenant pointed out.

“They could have just put [the tree] there, where there was an old tree [at one time],” Moto said, shaking his head.

Moto said he worried that similar problems are occurring across the city as the Parks Department continues its tree planting campaign.

A parks spokesman said while utility companies are notified to mark their lines, sewer and water lines are typically placed much deeper than the 18” to 24” that are excavated for tree planting.

The spokesman said the department had no record of pipe damage at the time of excavation on Monday, May 22, and didn’t receive correspondence regarding the damage until Thursday, June 1.

At no point throughout the excavation process was there any damage recorded by the resident engineer on site nor the contractor, they added.

The department learned of the damage when crews scheduled to plant the tree arrived on Wednesday, May 31 and found a contractor repairing the damaged pipe on behalf of the homeowner and could not access the site.

Parks said the planting site at the address has been voided and an alternative location will be chosen.

Spencer Estate Civic Association president Al Careena said he was surprised at the city’s hesitation to fix damages its contractor had caused, and that work crews are supposed to check with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection or Con Edison before digging to avoid existing sewer, water and electrical lines.

He said the incident would likely be discussed at the civic association’s Wednesday, June 21 meeting.

“I’ve been living here a long, long time, and I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” he said. “If you break something, you fix it. You don’t say, ‘sue me’ - that’s not the kind of response that I would expect from my city government.”

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 742–4584. E-mail him at acusano@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @arthurcusano.
Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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