A-SALT-ED BY THE FALLS
RIVER CAFÉ'S TREES IN DANGER
by Steve Cuozzo, NY Post
AUTUMN leaves are falling early at the River Café, where the 80-foot waterfall at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge has turned the famed waterfront eatery's trees and plants prematurely brown.
In an unanticipated overflow from the man-made cataract, tumbling saltwater is drifting onto the River Café's landscaped garden yards away. Images taken by a Post photographer show trees nearest the falls looking as if it's November.
Restaurant owner Buzzy O'Keeffe worries that some of his prized plantings might not recover.
He said, "I put these trees in 32 years ago," when he launched the celebrated eatery at what was then a desolate and forbidding location.
"It's a great little park with its own irrigation system. Now, the salt spray hits them when the wind shifts in our direction," he said.
Parks Department First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh acknowledged, "Trees and other vegetation at the River Café are clearly showing signs of stress." Saltwater harms and can destroy trees by interfering with the photosynthesis process necessary to sustain life.
But Kavanaugh said the city and the Public Art Fund, which backed the $15.5 million, Olafur Eliasson-designed falls at four East River sites, hope to nip the crisis in the bud.
O'Keeffe first noticed the browning of small-leaf linden trees, weeping birches and wisteria soon after the falls opened in late June. It became so visible that customers started to ask about it - as I did last week.
O'Keeffe said the waterfalls, which run until Oct. 26, are "beautiful" and the one next to the River Café is "the best of them, with a great backdrop."
But while the falls are up for only a few months, the garden has been a part of the River Café's charm since it opened in 1977.
Kavanaugh said the salt assault "doesn't look like it's going to cause fatal damage." He said his experts recommended "flushing the root zone to flush out any salt in the soil once a week and hosing down the leaves and foliage early in the morning," among other remedies.
O'Keeffe praised the city and the Public Art Fund for trying to rescue his afflicted arboreals before it's too late.
He said the Art Fund has hired Port Washington-based Dom's Tree Service to care for the affected plantings at the River Café and also at Governors Island, where the falls there have caused similar damage.
"If it stops where it's at, that's one thing," O'Keeffe said. "I'm just hoping my trees survive."