The Liberty Grove Town Board voted 3 – 2 to widen Isle View Road at a contentious meeting Feb. 28.
The decision came despite the objections of many who said the widening will irreparably harm the unique aesthetic of the picturesque, little-traveled road in Ellison Bay.
Town Chairman John Lowry and supervisors Nancy Goss and Frank Forkert voted in favor of widening the road to a 20-foot paved surface with 3-foot shoulders on each side. The road is currently about 18 feet wide, with no shoulders on much of it.
Supervisors Ann Miller and Robert Tidball voted against the measure.
Lowry said the road has been on the docket for reconstruction for at least four years but the $250,000 project has been put off.
For several years residents of the town have expressed frustration with the town’s road maintenance policies. That includes the removal of trees on many roads and “aggressive” trimming of trees on others.
The Isle View Road widening ignited further controversy because it requires the removal of more than 200 trees along the road, many of which now grow just inches from the edge of the pavement. The decision reneges on previous agreements the town board made in walk-throughs with residents on the road over the last year. In those, the town agreed to remove far fewer trees and widen the road only slightly.
“I think the board truly felt that on the walk we had located all the trees that needed to be taken out,” Lowry said. “But we realized that to do this correctly more would have to go. The arborist told us that the reconstruction would likely kill many of them anyway, that if the roots are disturbed the chances of the tree surviving are not very good.”
Those in favor of widening the road said it will be safer for large construction trucks, plows, and other vehicles to travel and for walkers and bicyclists to use. Cars have had to back off the road to allow snowplows to pass, and there is concern that emergency vehicles could have trouble responding to situations on the road.
Lowry also said that the widening of the road makes it possible to keep rain, snow and ice off the road, slowing deterioration.
“The argument is safety, but there have not been any safety issues on that road,” said Tidball. “It’s not heavily traveled. I am convinced that it could be as narrow as 16 feet with two-foot shoulders on each side.”
Both sides agreed that the road is in need of repair, but opponents of the widening believe repair can be done without changing the character of the road. Tidball said he would prefer that the highway crew and the board not treat every road the same, even if it makes it easier to plow and maintain a wider road.
“These quirks are part of our unique character here,” he said. “Sometimes a little more time and cost is the price you pay to preserve that.”
Liberty Grove residents Jim and Carol Maronek argued for preserving the road as well. They are willing to pay slightly higher taxes if it means preserving places like Isle View Road.
“It’s worth it because the payoff comes from continuing to attract tourists to our community,” Jim Maronek said. “Roads like Isle View and Garrett Bay should be repaired rather than rebuilt.
Louis Covotsos, president of the Door Bluff Neighborhood Association, said the most disappointing part of the decision is that it effectively makes the town’s effort to create a Heritage Road Program a mute point.
After many citizens complained about the town’s tree maintenance policies the town agreed last April to create a Heritage Road Program, which would allow trees along certain low-traffic roads to be trimmed less aggressively. Covotsos said the program’s implementation has been stalled several times.
“That’s one of the big frustrations,” he said. “Meetings were cancelled and here we are almost a year later without a Heritage Road plan in place. If we just gave the heritage road program a chance to work maybe the Isle View decision would be made differently.”