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Aug 26, 2015 10:17 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Man Cuts Down Hundreds Of Beetle-Infested Trees

Tom Salvatore, of 63 Newtown Road in Hampton Bays, cut down most of the dying trees on his four acre lot to make a meadow in his backyard. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Aug 26, 2015 10:17 AM

A Hampton Bays man has chopped down hundreds of pine, oak and other hardwood trees that he says were infected by black turpentine beetles from behind his parents’ house on Newtown Road over the past two months.

Tom Salvatore, who lives in one of the two houses that sit on the roughly four acres owned by his parents, Max and Diane Salvatore, at 63 Newtown Road, said he started cutting down the dead trees in June, explaining that only a few of them could be saved. He said that most had been decimated by the black turpentine beetle, a species of bug that is native to the southeastern United States but has slowly made its way north. The bugs can obstruct the flow of water inside certain trees, causing them to die.

“I have no plans to do anything besides making it beautiful for ourselves and the community,” said Tom Salvatore, adding that he has no plans to plant new trees or to build any permanent structures on the cleared land.

His work, however, has caught the attention of many of his neighbors, many of whom began to question why he was taking down so many trees by himself. Prior to starting work, Mr. Salvatore said he first checked with Southampton Town officials to ensure that there were no clearing restrictions on his parents’ property.

“I can clear from property line to property line,” Mr. Salvatore said, recalling a phone conversation he had several months ago with someone at Southampton Town Hall. “I remember it like it was yesterday because I was surprised by it.”

Theresa Masin, an environmental analyst employed with the Southampton Town Conservation and Environmental Division, said the property owned by Mr. Salvatore’s parents does not fall within the aquifer overlay district, meaning that there is no restriction on the number of trees he can take down.

“Theoretically, he could take down the trees,” Ms. Masin said. “However, in the two lots in the back, there could be an issue with the Peconic Land Trust.”

She added that the lots to the rear of the property could fall within an area that is protected by the Peconic Land Trust. She could not provide any additional details.

When reached on Tuesday, Pam Greene, vice president of the Peconic Land Trust, released the following statement: “The Peconic Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the Salvatore Conservation Easement located at 63 Newtown Road, Hampton Bays, N.Y. The conservation easement on this property protects multiple conservation values, including agriculture and the right to clear for agricultural purposes.

“Our attorney is currently reviewing the restrictions and the recent actions taken by the landowner.”

Mr. Salvatore noted that he called the nonprofit prior to cutting down any of the trees, to make sure that there were no restrictions on the property. He said his work was cleared by Matt Swain, a South Fork stewardship manager for the Peconic Land Trust.

Mr. Salvatore said he initially suspected that a portion of his parents’ property might have some type of protective easement, which is why he was relieved when a town representative, whose name he could not recall, told him there were no restrictions.

A reporter who visited the site on Monday morning observed nearly every car passing slowing down to take a look at the dirt hill that now sits behind the two houses, land that once featured hundreds of trees. Other curious onlookers have even pulled into Mr. Salvatore’s driveway to get a closer look at his handiwork, he said. As of earlier this week, bulldozers hired by Mr. Salvatore were removing the stumps left behind by the trees he cut down.

He stressed that his work has nothing to do with the ongoing clearing of land next door to his parents’ property. Four lots were recently cleared and are now up for sale.

Others, like Rob Landsiedel of Hampton Bays, originally thought that the Shinnecock Indian Nation might have resumed efforts to build a casino in the area. The tribe owns a 77-acre swath of waterfront land in the area.

“When I saw that, it just brought me back to my days of the Indians clearing out the land for the old casino,” Mr. Landsiedel said.

Mr. Salvatore, who grew up in Hampton Bays, still has stacks of dead trees lining the rear of his property. He said he intends to recycle most of them, cutting up the trees and using them as mulch for landscaping. He still has plans to transplant some of his healthier trees to the front of his property so that they can provide some privacy from those driving and walking along Newtown Road.

When he is finished, Mr. Salvatore said he pictures the dirt hill in his backyard as a meadow filled with blooming flowers to be enjoyed by his children, nieces and nephews.

“We don’t want to keep it a big barren brown hill,” he said. “The people who have to look at it the most is us.”

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Will the "meadow" also be enjoyed by the deer, opossum, and raccoon?

Does anyone else find it hard to believe that the only thing on this property was infected trees?

This is a disgrace. So much for Peconic Land Trust actually "protecting".
By bb (884), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 15 9:31 AM
O grow up! Does "bb" stand for "busybody?"

The man did everything by the book, and probably saved every other tree in the area by his actions.

I mean, what's the "story" value here? It seems like 27East's reporter was tipped that something big and illegal had just happened, but when she followed up and spoke with the authorities, found out othewise.
By Frank Wheeler (1811), Northampton on Aug 29, 15 9:42 AM
Sounds more like Southern Pine Beetle--a recent arrival on Long Island--than Black Turpentine Beetle to me.
BTB is a serious pest of imported Japanese black pines but does not usually kill native pitch pines on the scale described in this article. SPB, which was just IDd on Long Island last fall, does kill pitch pines, and Hampton Bays is unfortunately one of the epicenters of the outbreak.
SPB will NOT attack oaks or any other deciduous trees, however. I hope that Mr. Salvatore has consulted ...more
By SilverSnail (12), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 15 12:32 PM
3 members liked this comment
First of all....There are 3 separate parcels owned by Salvatore. 59, 61 and 63. I can only assume he is preparing to develop those 2 cleared pieces and I believe there are clearing restrictions that would require him to reveg. If this "meadow" is to become part of the 63 Newtown parcel will the said separate parcels still be held single and separate? Good luck with that can of worms you just opened for yourself. On a different note....If you look at google maps there are not many pines on those ...more
By Easterlywind (7), Southampton on Aug 31, 15 3:07 PM
Nice mailbox.
By HamptonDad (211), Hampton Bays on Aug 31, 15 7:22 PM
Easterlywind just gave me a better idea of what is going on here. Pretty critical information to leave out - that the surrounding properties being cleared are owned by the same family! Also, love that this guy did everything by the book except, you know, get an expert to confirm the presence of the beetles and dead trees, lol.
By Brandon Quinn (186), Hampton Bays on Sep 1, 15 11:24 AM