Bath residents voice North Street sidewalk woes

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BATH — More than 30 North Street residents have signed a petition asking the city to restore a sidewalk on the south side of North Street.

While there had been sidewalks on both sides of the street – primarily from the “Five Corners” intersection to High Street – the south side now has a trail composed of stone dust that in places is turning to mud.

The change was made to save money.

Barbara Leeman, who started the petition, expressed her concern at the City Council’s Jan. 6 meeting.

“North Street isn’t done,” she said, pointing out that while the final phase of the reconstruction of North Street, between High to Washington streets, has yet to be completed, “what I’m really here to talk to you about is the work that’s already been done.”

Along with water pipeline replacement, that work includes new sewers, the new north-side sidewalk and the walking trail on the south side.

While Leeman complimented the street’s new pavement, she said on her side of the street, “we have mud in front of our house … it’s in front of all of the houses on the south side of North Street.”

She said she visited 95 percent of the homes in the area, and got signatures from every homeowner. “They are all unhappy with the way it turned out, in terms of the sidewalk,” Leeman said.

Along with the mud issue, the grass in front of Leeman’s house is also eroding into the mud. “It’s dangerous,” she said. “I personally saw the mailman slip.”

The petition Leeman submitted contained 35 signatures, City Clerk Mary White said Jan. 7. Since the document was not submitted to generate a vote, it does not have to be certified, she noted.

Resident Fay Hart said in an interview Monday that she signed the petition “because it’s a lousy sidewalk. … All this fall it’s been like walking on the beach. I’ve had two knees replaced, so that isn’t a place I walk.”

Everyone who enters her house from the sidewalk complains, she said, “because it’s mud. When you come in the house, you bring it all with you.”

Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco told Leeman there is no money in the budget for a new sidewalk, but it could be discussed this spring as part of next year’s spending plan.

The city held two public meetings last year on the North Street project when it was being planned, “and we explained at that time that we were eliminating the sidewalk on the south side,” Public Works Director Peter Owen said in an interview Jan. 7. “There was one there, but it was in bad condition, and the city was not going to pay to rebuild it, and we were just going to leave it grass.”

Still, members of the public said they wanted some kind of path there, he said. Since there ended up being room in the budget for a walkway, a stone dust path – endorsed by the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee – was laid down instead, Owen said.

“We’re not sure what’s going on in front of (Leeman’s) house,” he said, wondering if the problem could be cause by groundwater seepage. “We’ve looked at it at different times, and the path in other places has been fine.”

Stone dust is “a fine, fine sand,” a byproduct from crushing operations, and “a fairly inexpensive material that’s put down, and it binds, but it’s also something that takes a while to stabilize,” Owen explained.

He said the city is striving to keep tax increases at a minimum, so as it rebuilds streets it looks for ways to reduce maintenance costs. Having one sidewalk on North Street to rebuild and plow, instead of two, is one way of doing that.

Owen suggested that some crushed stone could be incorporated into the path this spring to mitigate the mud situation.

“We’ll look into what might be able to be done there, but we’re looking at what really could be done for the whole thing,” he said.

Kevin Shute, chairman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, said in an interview Jan. 8 that his panel is in the process of doing a city sidewalk inventory, and the southern side of North Street will be included.

“There’s (a) process in place that prioritizes areas that need work,” he said, adding that residents are invited to attend the committee’s February meeting to discuss the inventory.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Where there was a paved sidewalk on both sides of North Street in Bath, now there is a sidewalk on the north side and a snow-covered “stone dust” trail on the south. More than 30 residents have signed a petition asking the city to improve the path.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.