Alderman worries about residents’ trees
By Scott Bellile
When the New London Board of Public Works assembled an ad hoc committee this week to review proposals for citywide sidewalks, one board member expressed concern about what the project could mean for property owners’ trees.
At the Monday, June 5 board of public works meeting, the consultant selection committee formed to review requests for qualifications submitted by consulting firms that apply to provide engineering and bidding management services for the city’s upcoming sidewalk work.
The work is funded through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s $354,069 Safe Routes to School grant awarded to New London a grant last summer. The city will construct new sidewalks or expand partial sidewalks on streets where children might walk on their way to school.
Board member and Second District Alderman Tom O’Connell asked how much input the public would have in the sidewalk project and when they would learn the final selections for which streets would receive them. He wants people to be informed “not the last day” before work begins.
O’Connell is worried about impacted property owners losing trees. He said residents have been concerned about the sidewalks’ impact on their properties and some were unhappy to hear the project announced last year.
“Where they’re talking about [putting sidewalks] down the street near me, if they cut all those trees for the sidewalk, they wouldn’t be happy,” O’Connell said of residents on Nassau Street, a street with mature trees on the proposed project list.
New London Mayor Gary Henke and Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh told O’Connell that the discussion taking place was not about where the sidewalks were going, but rather forming a committee to select a consultant to do the design work.
“Yeah, and so if he does the design, he don’t know the people [living along Nassau Street], so he would just knock down every [tree]?” O’Connell asked.
Bodoh assured O’Connell the city will hold public design meetings down the road to gather input before construction begins in 2020.
Henke said a resident takes a risk by planting a tree or flower bed in public right of way, which is the several feet of land behind a property owner’s curb area where the city has the right to construct a sidewalk.
“The thing of it is, the people complaining about cutting down trees, is when they plant them in city right of way, the chances are they could get cut down. … All a sudden we [the city] decide we need a sidewalk through here, well yeah, you put that [tree] in on city land, it’s probably going to change,” Henke said.
City behind on tree planting
Back at April’s New London Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, committee member and Fourth District Alderman Robert Way asked Parks Director Chad Hoerth how the parks department is doing with the number of trees it plants versus removes each year from public land.
Hoerth said the department needs to write a plan to plant more than it does. A city should plant 110 to 120 percent of the number of trees it removes in a year because that extra percentage above 100 tends to die.
“Putting in 110, 120 percent is actually staying level the amount of trees that you have in your community. We’re nowhere near putting in anything like that,” Hoerth said. “… We’re definitely taking out more [trees] than we’re putting back in, unfortunately.”
Street construction projects are a cause for tree removals, Hoerth said.
A project coming up in 2018 that is expected to lead to one or two dozen removals is the reconstruction of Division Street.
Henke said at the April meeting New London Utilities used to do a tree giveaway for its customers and should consider holding another.
In recent years, the utilities has switched its public service project to the annual electronics recycling drive, which has proven to be highly popular.
What’s ahead for sidewalks
Volunteering to serve on the three-man consultant selection committee on Monday were Henke and board members Robert Besaw and Dennis Herter.
According to the project timeline, the city will accept consulting firms’ RFQs from July 5 to until Aug. 10. The three-man consultant selection committee will then review the applications and select a consultant.
The board of public works will make a recommendation to the city council for approval in early September. By Oct. 2, negotiations with the consultant are set to be complete and the governor will approve the contract.
The actual construction of sidewalks will take place nearly three years from now. The consultant will have until March 2019 to coordinate the engineering and design of the sidewalk project. The sidewalks will then be constructed in summer 2020, with the project completed that fall.
To see a list of the city’s proposed streets for new sidewalks, visit NewLondonPressStar.com and search “New sidewalks in New London” for a September 2016 article on the topic.