MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Residents along the North Shore of Long Island are stumped after hundreds of blossoming pear and cherry trees lining some prominent roadways were chopped down.
Many who cherish the annual flowering trees have voiced their suspicions that the trees were needlessly axed.
As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively on Wednesday, the landscape has changed greatly in some communities where more than 200 stumps are all that are left of decades old Bradford pear and cherry trees.
"Every one of them is gone, it's horrible," Manhasset business owner Jamie Mazzei told Gusoff.
Residents said they don't buy the county's argument that Hurricane Sandy damaged all of the downed trees.
"There was some type of financial motive here because the more they cut, the more they got paid. And I think if there was a tree where there was any question that they could cut, they would cut," Manhasset resident John Vlahakis said.
He told Gusoff he was aghast watching tree after tree get chopped down and begged crews to spare a few.
"There is nothing wrong with this tree and that's how the majority of the trees were," Vlahakis told Gusoff.
Looks Great Services removed the trees on behalf of Nassau County.
Looks Great is currently part of several law enforcement probes into how Sandy clean-up contracts were awarded, Gusoff reported.
The Huntington company was paid $200 to $5,000 per tree as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In a statement, Looks Great said it "worked at the express direction of Nassau County who made every decision about tree removal and who had a county inspector with us at the site at all times to direct the work."
Nassau officials said every tree was inspected and the damage was documented.
"Sandy took those trees down; Nassau did not take those trees down. Those trees were taken down for the safety of the public," said Mike Martino of the Nassau County Department of Public Works.
After back-to-back storms, Nassau officials said the fragile pear trees became a public hazard.
But there's a chorus of criticism from mayors to legislators who are skeptical that Sandy rendered every tree hopeless in an area where nearby trees are fine.
"Every tree was cut down," Nassau legislator Judi Bosworth told Gusoff. "It makes me incredulous to think that every tree had to be cut down."
Nassau comptroller George Maragos is auditing the tree company's claims by checking photos and reports from the inspectors.
"Who authorized the cutting down of those trees," Maragos said.
County officials said they are replacing the trees on those two roads. Replanting will begin in the next few weeks, but residents said they fear it will take a generation to grow back what was lost.
The new trees to be planted will be 10 to 12 feet tall, county officials said. Bradford pears will not be planted because they are prone to storm damage.
FEMA is ultimately responsible for repaying Nassau County for the cost of the tree removal and the replanting, officials said.
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