Once Revered, Rivercross Lawn Will Never Be the Same

Too Late, RIOC Scrambles to Justify Iconic Trees' Destruction

Updated 50 weeks ago David Stone
An ironic "care of trees" graphic marks the truck summoned to destroy them.
An ironic "care of trees" graphic marks the truck summoned to destroy them.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

The press release, strategically emailed after the close of business on Friday, was as cynical as it was condescending, patching together, with smug self-assurance, a rationale for damage already done. It followed what's now a standard theme for both RIOC and Trump: Never admit a mistake. Never apologize.

It had the marks of a scramble, under pressure, to make bad news go away.

NEWS: Make room for Sweetgum Trees on Roosevelt Island read the subject line. Make room, RIOC already had. Brutally, in the eyes of many. And the sweet gums are just a suggestion. RIOC doesn't really have any firm plans.

I cringed, knowing it was coming. RIOC officials reacted to community outrage mixed with sorrow by countering our story with another glib rationale aimed at allowing them to get out of town, their bad conduct papered over, for a early autumn weekend.

You can download a PDF of the full release at the end of this article.

Too Late, RIOC Scrambles to Justify Iconic Trees' Destruction

Earlier, I'd taken a walk past the scene of the crime. The Rivercross lawn looked like a house with its roof blown off. The shady comfort zone for picnickers and relaxed readers is over for good, the whole atmosphere around the Meditation Steps altered, denuded.

It was ugly. I couldn't stand to take a picture.

"I always loved that tree and wanted to paint it," RIVAA artist Georgette Sinclair wrote, "but I took him for granted....I never had enough time and I said it will be there for ever....so in my spare time I travel to other places to paint.... The 2 trees that they chopped were older and different than the ones surrounding the green space... they had their dignity of old and were enchanting us with their beauty..."

RIOC had no time for that or the anger and sadness upsetting so many. Neither had the State agency any explanation why a tree removal service, ironically known as The Care of Trees, was recruited out of Westchester County, where RIOC seems to find a peculiar concentration of contractors, while numerous New York City companies wait nearby.

You can look it up. Google "tree removal near me." The Care of Trees doesn't show up, not even in the paid ads above the fold.

Yet, there they were in prime time, Thursday morning, hacking down two trees responsible for the shady comfort zone on the lawn.

There is no evidence that RIOC consulted with anyone living anywhere near Roosevelt Island, no evidence of the slightest effort to get community input or buy in.

Instead, the release brags of calling in an unnamed "ISA-certified arborist," without any effort to tell us what that is. This expert, not surprisingly, was called in from... Mount Vernon in Westchester County.

All those folks devoted to preserving Central Park had to be bypassed.

RIOC never touched base with the RIRA Common Council. Nobody emailed the Roosevelt Island Tree Group, although RIOC's aware of them because of their work with Cornell Tech before and during construction.

After a rhapsodic exposition on "sweetgums" (misspelling is theirs), RIOC gradually admits that it really has no firm plans for replacement. Readers are actually asked for suggestions.

Then, the excuses we never heard before the trees were whacked came, like afterthoughts to the sweetness of RIOC's innocent intentions.

"The Mount Vernon-based tree expert was tasked, by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, with identifying dead or declining trees that posed safety hazards," it says.

Why aren't any names used? More opacity from RIOC. Trust us. Don't fact check. Actually, you can't because we're not giving you enough facts to check, just the semblance of truth.

"Truthiness," Stephen Colbert used to call it.

"Two Norway maples, both longtime fixtures at the Rivercross lawn area, were found to be in serious declining health with more than 60 percent of the limbs in the trees’ crowns dead, presenting a major safety hazard to anyone located in the spaces under the trees. Norway maples have a reputation for falling branches and limbs as the tree weakens."

Note: RIOC blames a bland, generalized "reputation" to explain killing trees no one has ever complained about.

And handing out under the radar cash in the usual spendthrift way.

By the time it's done, the release brushes the acts with a softening concern for our safety, nothing about our community esthetic, the declining sense that Roosevelt Island is different, more natural, softened with trees and bushes and goodwill.

In closing, the release trots out the usual suspect.

“We have next weekend’s Fall for Arts Festival taking place on the lawn where the two dead trees were located and we wanted to make sure the hazardous trees were removed prior to the event for safety reasons. The other trees in the area have received pruning as well to remove any other dead branches,” said Susan Rosenthal, RIOC’s President and CEO.

As far as we can tell, no resident agrees that the trees were dead or in need of removal.

The release contains no apology or other signal of concern for residents who loved the trees and the now destroyed ambience they created from the time ground was broken for the WIRE buildings for which they offered welcome.

Clueless barely describes it.

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