As if the mauling of federally protected birds wasn’t bad enough, there are many other not-so-environmental practices taking place up at Sands Point, as multiple tours have documented. Most notably, and noticeably, given that it’s a nature preserve, is the mass destruction of trees.
Trees and other vegetation were cleared to make way for said amphitheater. Trees and dense underbrush were chainsawed along the shores of a scenic pond along the side of Castle Gould. Trees were toppled along the Sound and down the cliff face behind Hempstead House. Estimates of exactly how many trees the Friends have felled vary. Employee approximations range from no more than 50 to hundreds.
Bruce Piel, chairman of Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau), a coalition of 150 park advocacy groups with a membership of 250,000 county residents, calls the Friends’ actions “absolutely atrocious.”
“It’s supposed to remain basically in the same pristine condition that they got it. It will always be the same,” he explains.
The only things you can do, he stresses, “is if a tree falls across a pathway through the preserve, you’re allowed to cut the tree off of the pathway, otherwise people wouldn’t get through. The second thing is, if you have a brook or a stream that runs thru a property, that becomes dammed up by debris, before it creates a pond that becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes, you can go in there and open up that dam, that naturally created dam, so that the water flows freely.
“Other than that,” he adds, “nothing, absolutely nothing should be done to the property. If a tree falls, it lays there, because the natural order of things is it decays, it becomes compost and stays in the ground. So, that’s what a preserve’s supposed to do.”
“While something is a preserve, that’s it, it’s hands-off,” emphasizes Wilson-Pines. “You don’t alter it, you don’t build new structures.”
And it’s trees that make up the very DNA of a nature preserve, stress environmental groups and preservationists. Long Island’s landscape and fauna is recognized by the U.S. government as important migratory bird habitat—altered with every tree and swath of underbrush removed, they charge.
“They destroyed a lot, a lot of bird habitat—tremendous amount of bird habitat, laments Maslow. “I used to see lots of birds in those bushes and trees that they just, they just decimated.”
But yet not every Friends board member may seek to wreak havoc on the Guggenheim Estate’s hallowed grounds. There is a hierarchy within the Friends dictating which flora become woodchips (which the Press has learned, ironically, the Friends are currently allowing to be dumped on the grounds, en masse, without county approval— that’s for another story).
The chain of command for the lopping is the board (typically the Hagedorns or Posner, say former members) to Rocchio, to him or his stepson assigning his underlings the task during a daily morning briefing.
Shockingly, from the beginning, current and former employees tell the Press, they were simply handed chainsaws and told to go clear this area or that—without any safety equipment or training, forget U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws and regulations.
“When we got them, we didn’t know how to use them, any of us,” says one of those who personally assisted in the downing, as an estimate, of roughly 30 to 50 trees throughout the preserve.
“Safety equipment, safety protocol, basically was, to not hurt yourself.”
OSHA and the New York State (NYS) Department of Labor mandates a laundry list of rules and regulations for employers employing workers regarding chainsaw use.
OSHA safety training could have come in handy for Rocchio—and saved his 19-year-old female assistant a trip to the hospital this September, too. (And taxpayers a potentially costly lawsuit.)
The Sands Point Police Department, who dispatched officers to the scene, confirms a 19-year-old girl was injured at the preserve and transported to a nearby hospital. Preserve workers, including an employee from the Running Wilde crew who witnessed the accident’s aftermath, provide grizzly details that in actuality it could have been much, much worse.
Hefty tables stacked haphazardly atop a forklift had toppled over onto the teenager, nearly crushing her.
“I didn’t want to look. I went over, and I saw blood on her mouth,” says one witness. “There were still some [tables] stacked on the forklift. That was just horrific.
“[If] OSHA was there, it’s shutdown, guaranteed,” he adds.
Rocchio refused to answer questions regarding the incident when questioned by the Press earlier this week. A message for comment left at the victim’s home went unreturned as of press time. Rocchio’s stepson could not be reached.