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CBS2 Exclusive: War Of Words Erupts As Historic Astoria Tree Comes Down

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Tensions have flared in Astoria, Queens, as city workers cut down a century-old tree.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported exclusively Monday night, people in the neighborhood said the tree was a historic landmark, and said they should have been notified before it got chopped up.

The elm tree has sheltered a block of 34th Street in Astoria for at least 100 years. But on Monday morning, the tree was chopped down.

Nicole Patterson was seen on video trying to stop the slaughter.

"This is a historical monument. You are not allowed to do this. You're not allowed to do this!" Patterson says in the video.

"You need to move, or you're going to get arrested for obstructing a city worker," someone is heard saying back.

"This is killing a tree!" Patterson continues. "You could have trimmed it back! You could have trimmed it back!"

"Would you rather the tree fall on you?" the worker says.

"I'd rather it fall on you, you m***erf***ing a**hole," Patterson replies tearfully. "What an a**hole."

"F**k you. You f***ing b***h. Yes, you're a f***ing b***h," the worker is seen replying.

The worker was also seen sticking out his tongue.

Patterson said she was "extremely" upset that at the confrontation she had.

"It's disrespectful and outrageous these city workers would do something like that," she told CBS2's Schneider.

The city's Department of Parks and Recreation said it is "investigating the inappropriate conduct and language depicted in the video."

The department also defended the decision to take the tree down.

"Unfortunately this beautiful American elm tree had many defects. Upon inspection of this tree by trained arborists, it was found to be structurally unsound," the department said. "There were multiple points of severe decay in both the trunk and in the canopy."

Many limbs had also suffered breaks and splits, and there were several hollow cavities, the department said in the statement. Because of those defects, and the fact that the tree had a significant lean, it had to be cut down, the department said.

"It's really a shame," said neighbor Steve Pacura. "But it was going to fall eventually."

People in the neighborhood said the Parks Department told them the old tree was rotted and hollow inside. But when they cut it down, it was not hollow at all.

"You didn't have to be an expert to see, it's a healthy; a very healthy tree," said Anna Jutis.

Jutis has admired the tree for the 45 years she has lived in the area. Now, she and others are mourning its loss.

Patterson said she was assured multiple times by city officials that the tree would be safe.

"Their exact words were, 'It will never be cut down, because it's a landmark,'" she said.

But now, they are left with a stump, and pieces of the tree as souvenirs.

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