Haynes’s Apologia for Harming Trees Fails, Raises New Questions


RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes’s apologia came after numerous Roosevelt Islanders protested another incident in the local war on trees. Cheers to the community for rising up. Boo to Haynes for reacting ineptly. We now have more questions than answers.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Something in Haynes’s deeply flawed defense caught our attention right away.

“In October of this year, RIOC sought the services of an independent Arborist, Bartlett Tree Experts, after RIOC’s Director of Horticulture, a certified Arborist, deemed two trees on the Island to be ‘hazardous” and a “risk” of falling and possibly striking an individual.” 

Shelton J. Haynes, President/CEO, Roosevelt Island Operating Corportion

Sounds simple, right? But it’s not because Haynes failed to reveal that RIOC’s consultant – Bartlett Tree Experts – then got the job. We don’t know if any other “Arborist” was contacted, but in any case, awarding a contract to the consultant who set it up is unethical on its surface.

And even more so without competitive bids, which apparently there weren’t because not enough time elapsed.

This echoes a practice uncovered when we investigated the unnecessary removal of two old-growth trees on the Rivercross Lawn in 2016.

Under pressure from extreme weather, like last summer’s heat wave, healthy trees self-amputate to preserve resources. This branch apparently fell from the tree RIOC killed on Tuesday. As you can see, it’s otherwise healthy, filled with fresh leaves.

How Trees Work

Understanding how trees work makes their removal ill-advised in most cases, especially while healthy like the first tree destroyed.

Aside from their shade and esthetic values, trees like those being attacked by RIOC play crucial roles in making a beneficial environment. Trees suck in major pollution.

“Trees draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a process called photosynthesis. Plants use photosynthesis to produce various carbon-based sugars necessary for tree functioning and to make wood for growth. Every part of a tree stores carbon, from the trunks, branches, leaves, and roots.”

United States Department of Agriculture

Haynes’s apologia never touches on that side of the coin, but it’s why environmentalists fight to save trees from the Amazon basin to New York City. Trees are vital resources in clearing pollution.

And nowhere is it clear that when an od-growth tree is chopped into small pieces all those decades worth of stored carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.

In short, it’s not just environmentally unsound, but it’s a serious kind of pollution. Did they even think about it?

Removing established trees should be considered only with the utmost care, not in a hurried, slapdash manner like this.

An aerial view of the trees being attacked by RIOC shows a healthy canopy without exceptions. The first tree RIOC killed is among those on the upper right. There is no indication of illness or weakness. A richly filled-out canopy is a sure sign of robust good health.

Haynes’s Apologia Takes a Wrong Turn

Apart from the ethical purchasing issues, the core of what Haynes had to say is extraordinarily weak.

Although he claims that Director of Horticulture and Grounds Matthew Kibby first cited two trees as “hazardous” and a “risk,” Bartlett’s report fell far short of that.

Without indicating any specific tree, the arborist said they “pose a certain degree of hazard and risk from breakage, failure, or other causes and conditions.”

This was the best Haynes could come up with, and it’s so ambiguous, it could apply to any tree. Or building. Or fence.

Here, Haynes fails to make the full document available, but if there is anything more definitive, why didn’t he quote that instead of the above?

History Under Kibby’s Watch

In 2020, a RIOC landscaping crew brutally hacked down a 20-year-old stand of inkberry trees shading the West Promenade.

In explanation, RIOC said the inkberry trees were obstructing views of the river, although they sat below a row of trees and we already have plenty of that anyway. Two years later, they are nowhere near recovered and have been invaded by weeds.

But perhaps, the worst assault came in 2021, almost exactly a year ago. RIOC’s horticulture crew took chainsaws to the cherry tree row just south of the Queensborough Bridge.

When confronted, RIOC’s crew said they were “pruning” the trees to save their lives. But fruit tree pruning should never be done in the fall before dormancy sets in. It poses an extreme hazard for the trees. A year later, most of the trees hacked before we intervened are struggling for survival, and one is already dead.

‘Nuff said.

More Vindication Efforts in Haynes’s Apologia

“RIOC has planted 135 trees this year and will continue to work with the community to plant more,” Haynes says. But these young trees will need decades before significantly recovering what’s been lost already.

Under normal circumstances, trees grow in unison, vying for sunlight, gradually staking out secure positions. Many of those planted by RIOC, especially in Lighthouse Park, are fighting for sunlight among older trees. That inhibits growth and sometimes kills.

Haynes further states, “The safety and well-being of all Islanders are and will continue to be the number one priority for RIOC and my administration.”

No joke.

While the state agency that never gets it wrong continues to ignore electric-powered bikes, scooters and mopeds racing through stop signs and crosswalks. Some seniors stay home now because the streets and sidewalks are unsafe. (Personally, In just the last few months, I’ve barely missed being struck by cars running stop signs.)

Haynes, in fact, pressured after three people were hit by cars on Main Street, promised a comprehensive traffic safety plan.

That was over a year ago and hasn’t happened yet.

So much for RIOC’s phony-baloney “number one priority.” Not with the environment and not with the streets.

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