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Dead Trees a Safety Hazard on Napeague

Thu, 07/06/2023 - 10:39
Dead trees felled by southern pine beetle infestation pose a potential hazard to motorists and cyclists on Napeague.
Carissa Katz

An abundance of dead and rotting trees on Napeague pose a hazard to public safety, East Hampton Town Councilman David Lys said last week.

“I am extremely concerned now about how it might affect public safety at the main artery to Montauk,” Mr. Lys said of the trees killed by an infestation of southern pine beetles in recent years, “specifically how the right of way might get affected if a tree falls at an unforeseen time.”

Route 27 is a New York State roadway, and Mr. Lys and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. have been in discussions with the State Department of Transportation regarding the clearing of dead trees that could fall onto the roadway.

Mr. Lys said that outreach by the town and Mr. Thiele to the D.O.T. had led to “minor clearing of a couple of trees” by two crews last month. “The town is requesting that the state work with the town to develop a larger-scale removal of hazardous trees overhanging the surface of Route 27’s right of way,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to deal with them all, but the ones that are hazardous to traffic and pedestrians” must be removed, he said. “I know there’s angst within Montauk’s year-round population,” a population now swelled by summer visitors to the easternmost hamlet.

But because of the presence of the northern long-eared bat, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and is facing extinction from a disease called white-nose syndrome, the D.O.T. was unwilling to resume clearing until August.

“That’s way too late for me,” Mr. Lys said.

On Monday, however, Mr. Thiele said in an email that after his discussion with the agency last week, “it was clarified that D.O.T. will continue to remove trees wherever a safety issue is present, and will not have to wait until August because of the long-eared bat, unless the bat is actually in the tree.”

The recent air-quality alerts on the South Fork related to wildfires in eastern Canada have also aroused fears of fire here, should drought conditions worsen. Virtually all of Suffolk County is in a “moderate drought” condition, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, a multi-agency partnership.

Mr. Thiele said his office is in contact with other interested parties, including the State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Long Island Rail Road. “My office is in the process of coordinating a meeting with these agencies and the town to ensure that there is an adequate and coordinated response to the removal of these trees,” he said.

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