By Lauren Zaepfel
After hearing from a roomful of residents who were either for or against the installation of a sidewalk on Krueger Road - where teenager Ryan Fisher was hit by a vehicle while walking along the road in 2014, and ultimately died - the Town of Wheatfield Town Board opted to go in another direction.
Council members on Monday did not vote on a motion to accept a New York State Department of Transportation grant for the sidewalk installation. Instead, the board will look into widening the shoulders on both sides of Krueger Road - and ask the DOT if grant funds can be used for this purpose.
As is, the $756,000 DOT grant would have covered 80 percent of the sidewalk project's initial estimated cost of $945,000.
"My son was a wakeup call, and I hope that they do put the shoulders in (and) that will be enough to save someone," said Ryan's stepmother, Kelly Dueger, who has long advocated for improvements along the street. She and Krueger Road resident Deborah Fadel worked to gather information and rally support for the DOT grant submission.
"I'm disappointed that they put us through so much to get the $756,000 towards the sidewalk just to take it away," Dueger said.
Many residents in favor of the sidewalk held green signs urging board members to vote yes for the sidewalk, and they wore green ribbons in honor of Ryan, whose favorite color was green.
"I know he's here with us in spirit supporting us," Dueger said.
Niagara County Legislator Kathryn Lance, who lives on Krueger Road, was among those who spoke in favor of the sidewalk before the board voted.
"There's simply too much traffic moving too fast for people to walk safely on Kruger Road," she said, "I see it every day. I ride my bike. It is very dangerous."
Lance added, "As an elected representative, I'm approached by everyone on all sides of the issue. My neighbors tell me they are in favor of the sidewalks on Krueger. That's not to say that some neighbors aren't more concerned about costs or other concerns. However, once a child has died on your street and you pass his shrine every day, you must ask yourself, 'Is it still safe?' "
The motion to accept the DOT's sidewalk grant was made by Wheatfield Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe. He was the only board member to vote in favor of the project.
"If my child lived in that area, or my grandchildren lived in that area, I would want to see this sidewalk," Cliffe told board members as he sought a second on his motion. He also said the remaining cost of the sidewalk could be covered using money from the town's fund balance.
"I do think we should proceed," Cliffe said.
But none of the other board members seconded his motion.
Before this, one of the residents against the sidewalk project, William Kloc, said, "If you want to use money from the general fund, general fund money should be used for something that the majority of town members would benefit from, not a few vocal town members. If you're going to be nagged into putting a sidewalk on Krueger, it should be paid for and maintained by the people who signed the petition, for one, not the entire town through the general fund."
He added, "This is country living. If you add a sidewalk on one road, you're opening a can of worms, whereas how many others are going to be saying to the town, 'If Krueger Road got a sidewalk, we want one, too.' "
Councilmen Randy Retzlaff said, "I represent the people of the town, and the people of this town, of the 18,000, they do not want to be part of sidewalks. I'm telling you I'm getting it from everywhere."
Retzlaff proposed the board focus on attempting to widen the shoulders on Krueger Road instead of adding a sidewalk.
"If we could put some shoulders on the road, I think it would make everybody happy," he said.
This was not the first time the suggestion of widening Krueger Road's shoulders was broached.
Fadel said she first approached the board in 2014 and asked if the road's shoulders could be widened.
"Bottom line, we wanted shoulders in the beginning, and they said it was too expensive," Fadel said.
Dueger said, "Then we asked about grants, and there was a grant available for a sidewalk. So that's when they sent me on this wild rampage trying to get all this money for the sidewalk."
Retzlaff suggested a motion wherein the board try and use funds from the DOT in order to help pay for widening the shoulders.
"I would like to go with this motion and try to use this money to put shoulders on this road," he said.
All members, excluding Cliffe, voted in favor of having town grant writer Bernie Rotella submit a revised plan to the DOT in which the town could put money toward widening the shoulders of Krueger Road instead of installing a sidewalk - which the original grant request sought.
Cliffe said he thought the sidewalk would be a "unique opportunity" to take advantage of the DOT's grant. To be awarded a grant such as the one for the sidewalk, "There has to be a serious need, and obviously the state considers that there is a serious need," he said.
With regard to Rotella submitting a modified grant request, Cliffe said, "The project scope was to put a sidewalk on Krueger Road. We can only get reimbursed if we put a sidewalk on Krueger Road, unless we allow a change of scope. Therefore, we would ask - through the grant writer or through our town attorney - DOT if they would consider paying 80 percent or some portion thereof to modify the project putting shoulders on it instead. So that's the intent at this point."
If the DOT opts to consider the board's proposal, Cliffe said it will likely take months for a decision to be made, because "they're going to want an engineering (plan), another map plan, to find out how expensive it's going to be and so on. Those things take months."
If the DOT denies the board's request, Cliffe said, "We may still proceed on our own," and widen the Krueger Road shoulders.
Under that scenario, one option would be to hire an outside contractor, while another would be to do the job in house via the town's Highway Department.
Cliffe explained it would cost significantly less money to do the job in house if the town has the resources to complete it, but it would take away from other tasks.
"If you have the ability, the machinery, the manpower to be able to do the project, it's cheaper to do in house," he said. "If it takes everything we have to do to be able to do that, and we have to give up paving for a year, maybe it's not in the best interest to do in house."
Ultimately, "I just want something done," Dueger said. "I want something done; the whole community needs something done, even if it's not a sidewalk."
Niagara County Legislator Kathryn Lance speaks in favor of a sidewalk on Krueger Road.