Army Corps helps clear damaged trees in Queens following Sandy
November 22, 2012
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QUEENS, N.Y. (Nov. 22, 2012) -- At 6:30 a.m., on Thanksgiving Day, dozens of local and out-of-state tree-clearing crews began to trickle in with their bucket trucks and wood chippers to a parking lot near Alley Pond Park.
For the next 12 hours, more than 30 crews canvased residential areas in this New York City borough removing storm-damaged trees from Hurricane Sandy. The work is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' overall emergency debris removal mission.
With an estimated 10,000 trees in New York City knocked down by Sandy, the city's Department of Parks & Recreation is shouldering the majority of 3-1-1 calls from residents requesting tree service. The Army Corps is focusing its efforts on roughly 1,200 locations in Queens, an area heavily pocketed with old-growth trees.
Following Sandy, the Army Corps contracted with Burlingame, Calif.-based Environmental Chemical Corporation, or ECC. Local subcontractors hired by ECC are performing most of the tree-clearing work.
Josh Toomey, a bucket operator with Northern Tree Service in West Brookfield, Mass., arrived one week after Sandy hit landfall Oct. 29. He and several other cutters from his company have been hauling out on average 15-20 large-sized trees every day, he said.
"A lot of people came to [Massachusetts] when we got hit badly last year, so I figured I could put up a good month to help out here," he said.
Like most of the out-of-state cutters, Toomey will miss Thanksgiving, but he hopes to be back by Dec. 1 for his son's 10th birthday.
Following a tailgate safety brief at Alley Pond Park, where ECC safety officers talked about lessons learned from the previous day, crews departed with a sheet of addresses to pick up fallen trees.
For Chris Woolley, an ECC site safety officer, cutting trees might be the mission, but "there's no cutting corners. Safety is paramount."
For the most part, crews consist of a bucket operator, two roadside flaggers and a quality control specialist from ECC. In order to oversee the tree-clearing work, the Army Corps has brought in more than 50 quality assurance, or QA, volunteers from throughout its districts across the U.S. These QA volunteers are specially trained to deploy on short notice to disaster areas.
One of those QA volunteers working in Queens on Thanksgiving Day was Frani Nelsen of the Army Corps Portland District. A picnic at Mt. Hood National Forest is a typical Thanksgiving outing for Nelsen and her two children.
This year, she brought out her Northwest spirit of Thanksgiving picnics by inviting members of her assigned tree-clearing crew for peanut butter sandwiches, Doritos and Gatorade on the hood of her rental car.
"It wasn't much, but it doesn't matter. There is always an instant bond with people who want to help out," she said. "Wherever you are, it's like family."