OLD LYME — After considering an alternative on the south side of Ferry Road that would have saved a few trees, the Ferry Road Sidewalk Committee came to a consensus Thursday that the best location for the replacement of the buckling sidewalks was on the north side of the road where the sidewalks are now.
“It’s certainly not ‘the plan’ but we’re moving in that direction. We’re still going to have a public information session,” said First Selectman Timothy Griswold, a member of the committee, after Thursday’s meeting.
The consensus included a requirement that the town consult with a licensed arborist since the project would potentially entail the removal of 10 of the 13 trees along the north side of Ferry Road Lyme St. and Route 156 — many of them old Norway Maples and Zelkovas.
Construction of the replacement sidewalks will require cutting tree root systems that cross underneath the sidewalk, which eventually kills the tree. Committee members said they wanted the project scope to include alternative construction methods like elevated boardwalks that can preserve tree roots beneath sidewalks.
Joanne DiCamillo, chair of the Tree Commission and a member of the committee, abstained from the consensus, saying that her group’s focus was on the trees and not the hardscape environment.
In late February, the Tree Commission considered moving part of the sidewalk to the south side of Ferry Road, but the plan included adding a crosswalk at Lt. River Road, which committee member Dan Montano deemed a safety hazard.
“Judging the speed of the cars coming from 156, I think you’re asking for trouble,” Montano said. “The fewer road crossings, the better.”
The project is funded by a $150,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant, known as STEAP, that provides $126,000 from the state and requires the town to provide $24,000. The town was approved for the grant in November 2020 to replace approximately 1,000 feet of sidewalk on Ferry Road but the grant did not include tree work.
Griswold suggested that next steps for the project include engaging an arborist to make recommendations on tree removals and tree trimming and using the arborist’s specifications in a Request for Proposal, which can then be brought before the town boards for funding.
“Part of this is putting together a budget. I think we can increase the town’s share but I don’t think we can go back to STEAP. Then the Board of Finance and the Board of Selectmen would need to weigh in — but that could all be done in the July-August time frame and then do the project in September-October,” he said.
The recommendations from the arborist will also be brought to the public information meeting on the project, Griswold said.
Griswold said he had met with all of the property abutters except one and that the majority preferred to keep the sidewalk where it is.
“I think it’s fair to say that for the most part people are receptive to having the sidewalk remain on the north side. I don’t know that there’s anyone who has said I really think it should go on the south side. I think with the exception of one party, all of the people were in favor of keeping it on the north side.”
But DiCamillo said that six of the nine abutters had said the trees were their number one priority.
“They did not want to see the trees removed. They wanted us to figure out what to do about the trees,” she said.
DiCamillo said the Tree Commission will discuss the plan at its next meeting on July 15 at 4 p.m.