By Lauren Zaepfel
Krueger Road residents came together at Monday night's Wheatfield Town Board meeting to urge councilmen to vote in favor of installing a sidewalk along their road.
This request comes after teenager Ryan Fischer died in 2014 after being stuck by a vehicle while walking along the road.
His stepmother, Kelly Dueger, as well as Deborah Fadel, who have been lead advocates for the installation of a sidewalk, again stated the road is unsafe.
"SOS - seeking out safety - for Town of Wheatfield residents has been our message for the past two years," said Fadel, a Krueger Road resident.
Among other residents who expressed concerns at the meeting were other Krueger Road and surrounding area residents, including a mother and caretaker of disabled individuals, as well as Ryan's younger sister and aunt.
Although the town was recently approved for a grant that would cover 80 percent of the cost, the other 20 percent would still need to be paid for. The total cost of the project was initially estimated to be approximately $945,000. However, due to inflation, the cost will likely increase.
After the meeting, Cliffe said that, if the town pays the remainder of funds needed for the sidewalk, it would have to use approximately 10 percent of its savings account.
During the meeting Dueger said, "The town's budget is just an arrangement of your priorities. We are not asking for a sidewalk on every street in Wheatfield. We are asking for one sidewalk on a street that has been proved dangerous."
She added, "We now have the opportunity with this grant to make a change."
Another option that has been discussed at previous board meetings would be to create a special district tax where residents of that area would pay for the sidewalk via taxes.
Some residents claimed that, if the board members were to not move forward with the project or create a special district to fund the remaining 20 percent, they would be backtracking. Fadel referenced the town's grant application to the New York State Department of Transportation, which states, "This project has been fully endorsed by the Town of Wheatfield including the matching 20 percent of funding."
The application also included a petition that showed more than 650 signatures of area residents who were in favor of the sidewalks. The petition stated, as a condition of the project, that no portion of the project's cost would be assessed against the abutting properties and that a special district would not be created to help fund the project.
"The petition wasn't a contract, it wasn't binding, it was documentation (with) signatures of people to help support it," Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks said.
He explained, "For instance, we have been sued for over $6 billion (referring to the Niagara Sanitation landfill case) since we applied for this (grant). Circumstances change, it wasn't a guarantee, it wasn't a promise - we have to pay the bills here."
During the meeting, DOT employee Maureen Harding (who said she was not representing the DOT at the meeting, only herself as a bicycle and pedestrian advocate), said, "You realize that if you decide not to go forward on this project it seriously jeopardizes your future grants through New York state or federal grants through New York state of a similar type."
She added, "It will seriously strike against you if you do not go forward with this grant, because if you decided if you didn't want to go forward with the grant you should have never applied for it, because in the grant it rates the ability and the commitment of the town to move forward on that nonfederal share."
After the meeting, Cliffe said, "I don't know how the DOT works. I think if there was a project that stood on its own grounds, I can't see them turning it down, but if you're an individual who works there and you've worked on our behalf and you've given us the opportunity we presently have before us, and another one comes along, I can see how that person or a small group of people might take that into account."
He continued, "I definitely believe that this is the one chance for the sidewalk, to get the state's help on the sidewalk. If we decide not to take the sidewalk and decide to fix the road, it's going to be more expensive. If we widen the road, it will cost us substantially more money than the sidewalk would. The sidewalk is definitely safer."
Harding also said, by denying the grant, the town would be opening itself up to liability.
"You will be liable if somebody gets injured on the road or killed and will open the town up to huge, huge liability issues," she said.
However, Brooks said this is not necessarily true. "The state hasn't come to us and said, 'We have to fix that road, it's a major hazard,' " he said.
Despite the support for the sidewalk shown Monday night, some board members said they are receiving opposition from some Krueger Road residents.
Councilman Larry L. Helwig explained he and councilmen Gilbert Doucet and Randy Retzlaff recently canvased the south side of Krueger Road and presented information about the grant and the project.
"Our goal was to talk to all the residents on the south side of Krueger road because that was the side of the road that was actually going to have the sidewalk. And it took us two evenings to get through all of that and we probably did almost 90 percent of the houses."
He added, "The general feeling that we had was about 74 percent of the votes on that side of the road said they did not want the sidewalk."
Doucet said the goal was to "ask the people that it was going to affect - these people are going to have their front yards ripped up; there's a chance they might have to do the snow removal - maybe not. Anybody who's going to be affected is going to be these people, where it's going in front of their houses. That was the main reason I wanted to hear from the residents that we represent - we represent everyone."
Dueger said some of her neighbors told her the councilmen implied the remaining cost of the sidewalk would be more than it has been estimated.
However, councilmen have said in the past that the cost of the sidewalk would likely increase due to inflation.
The board scheduled a public information meeting regarding the Krueger Road sidewalk project for 7 p.m. Monday, July 10, followed by a regular Town Board meeting. Cliffe said the board will likely vote that evening on whether the sidewalk project will move forward or not.
There will not be a July 3 Town Board meeting.
In other news:
•Cliffe said the board will not accept a New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets order to allow use of biosolids on town land.
"We believe that our law on biosolids, as part of our waste management law, is a correct law," Cliffe said. "And we directed our attorney to proceed with an Article 78, which is essentially an appeal of a decision that we consider poorly made by Ag. and Markets."
•Councilmen voted to accept a New York State Community Development Block Grant agreement to provide $750,000 to the Big Thunder Brewing project slated for the former Summit Mall. The town's Local Development Corporation will administer the grant money and the company will be required to create employment opportunities for various income levels. The project is expected to create more than 50 jobs.
•The Greenspace Focus Group, as part of the town's Comprehensive Plan Task Force, is discussing a proposed change in law that would require a base map, or resource inventory map, be presented by applicants looking to build subdivisions in the town.
The maps would indicate environmental or structural features on a parcel to be developed. Some of these features would include streams, wetlands, existing roads or driveways and other items of interest.
"Simply put: When a company comes to us with an idea for a development, they want to subdivide their land, and sell it off into houses or whatever they might want, right now ... under the law, they're supposed to talk about some of the features of the land," Cliffe said. "And those are noted in the law, but it's noted in about one and a half lines. ... What the group is suggesting we do is replace that little paragraph with a bigger paragraph that sits there and says, along with the documents that you give us, one of the documents ... has to be a layout of the land - base map is the term we use - which is an engineering diagram that shows the features of the land before you start developing."
Justin Higner of the Greenspace Focus Group said, "We have a lot of green space assets and a lot of agricultural assets that are on the verge of perhaps being compromised by things ... that could come up in the future. And we just want to help reinforce our laws and especially to get simply more data, just more data for the benefit of the developers, for the residents and for the lawmakers in town to make better and smarter and more sustainable growth for the Town of Wheatfield."
•Max Stevens, bingo inspector for the town, stated, as of July 9, "Minors under the age of 18 can attend the bingo session, but cannot play," in accordance with New York state regulation. "If a minor attends a session, they will need to buy an admission card and the organization will have to keep that card."