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Post date: March 26 2014

A.G. Schneiderman & State Parks Announce $64,000 In Sanctions And Public Apology From Yonkers Arborist Who Illegally "Topped" Trees In Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park

Potanovic & Sons Professional Tree Care Damaged Or Killed 34 Trees In Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park To Improve Hudson River Views For Private Landowners

Schneiderman: My Office Will Stand Vigilant In Protecting The Parks, Historic Areas, And Other Natural And Cultural Resources Shared By The People Of New York

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) recently announced a court-ordered settlement that requires the owner of Potanovic & Sons Professional Tree Care, a Yonkers-based tree service to pay sanctions valued at $64,000 for illegally entering a State park in Westchester County and removing the tops of trees. The three private landowners who hired the arborist to improve their views are contributing $24,000 toward this settlement. 

“State parks and historic sites belong to the people of New York, and all New Yorkers suffer the loss when these resources are harmed,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “At the behest of homeowners looking to improve their view, this tree service trespassed onto the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park, and killed or injured dozens of trees. Both the company and the landowners involved are being held accountable for these reckless and illegal actions. My office will stand vigilant in protecting the parks, historic areas, and other natural and cultural resources shared by the people of New York.” 

In early May 2005, three Yonkers homeowners residing on Rudolph Terrace with properties abutting the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park Trail hired Robert Potanovic and his company, Potanovic & Sons Professional Tree Care, to “vista prune” the trees blocking their views of the Hudson River and the Palisades beyond. In so doing, the tree service company trespassed onto the state park and illegally removed the top portions of -- or “topped” -- 34 trees located within the park. 

“Governor Cuomo has made the stewardship of our state park system a top priority – from keeping all state parks open, to investing record funding in the revitalization of park facilities, to protecting treasured natural resources,” State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said. “We will continue to aggressively protect and conserve Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park and parks across the state for future generations.”

In 2012, State Supreme Court, Westchester County found the company’s illegal entry into the park and unauthorized tree cutting violated New York environmental and public land laws, as well as the common law of trespass. The court-ordered settlement announced today resolves the sanctions against Potanovic and his company for these illegal activities. 

According to the settlement, Potanovic and his company are required to pay $24,000, each sign a letter of apology to the public for the destruction of the trees, and perform tree removal and other remedial work in the park trail, as directed by State Parks. The value of this work is approximately $40,000. 

Copies of the letters of apology can be found here.

Significantly, while the three involved homeowners are not party to the settlement announced today, they did reach a separate settlement with Potanovic over their involvement to the illegal tree topping. The landowners are collectively paying $24,000, monies that will contribute toward Potanovic’s settlement with the state. 

The national Tree Care Industry Association considers tree topping to be an unacceptable pruning practice. According to Association, topping trees: 

  • leaves large exposed wounds, which can pre-dispose the tree to infestation or other future health problems; 
  • ruins tree structure; 
  • removes too much foliage, disrupting the tree’s energy storage;
  • stimulates vigorous new growth, which is prone to breakage;
  • increases tree maintenance costs; and 
  • destroys the tree’s appearance and value. 

The Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park was created in 1968 and encompasses the northernmost 26.2 miles of the original 41-mile Old Croton Aqueduct, which provided drinking water to New York City until 1965. The park lies wholly within Westchester County, running from Croton George County Park in Cortlandt to the Van Cortlandt Park at the Bronx County/City of Yonkers border. The park is in the Taconic Region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. 

Attorney General Schneiderman thanks the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for its assistance.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney Marie Chery-Sekhobo and Andrew Gershon of the Environmental Protection Bureau, Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg, and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel. Louis Sebesta, urban arborist (retired), of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Gary Ricci and Peter Iskenderian, park managers, of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation provided assistance, along with Attorney Kathleen Martens and former Associate Attorney Jeffrey Meyers.