One of the visual trademarks of a village or hamlet, and Saugerties is no exception, are their shade tree-lined streets. To visiting tourists, these tree-lined roads personify small-town life, but to local walkers they can mean twisted ankles, skinned knees or hands, because the stately old trees also mean heaved sidewalks that can trip up the unwary, or seniors who need level sidewalks for their daily constitutional.
For years, these old trees with their accompanying heaved bluestone sidewalks have pitted homeowners against village officials in the war over who is responsible for taking care of the trees and releveling the sidewalks when they heave.
Officials have said the sidewalks are the homeowner’s responsibility and they must bear the cost of fixing them because if someone falls, it’s the homeowners insurance that would pay the medical costs.
Homeowners have said it’s the village’s responsibility since the trees are the village’s property, and the sidewalks are on that last three feet of property over which the village claims it has the right-of-way.
The Village Board is hoping a new law will settle the matter. According to a new law, adopted June 3, the trees that line streets and right-of-ways are now called public trees and are the responsibility of both homeowner and village government.
A village Shade Tree Commission has been placed in control of those trees, and if a property owner sees that the tree’s roots are starting to heave the sidewalk, they should contact the commission as well as the Village Board (845-246-2321). At that point the village building inspector will come out and have a look, and if he determines that the sidewalk needs to be repaired, the village and the property owner will share the cost.
A property owner will be required to pick up the cost of the materials, while the village will pick up the cost of the labor.
“What it means,” said Mayor William Murphy, “is that if the tree damages the sidewalk, the DPW will partner with the homeowner. The village will supply the workers and the homeowner will pay for the supplies.”
“About two-thirds of the cost of repairing a sidewalk,” Murphy explained, “is for labor and the rest is for supplies. This makes it affordable for the homeowner to have the sidewalk fixed.”
The new law also details what happens if a tree has to come down or is brought down because of rot or as the result of a storm.
It will be the Shade Tree Commission’s job to recommend when these public trees need to come down. And when one does comes down, the commission must have the remaining stump removed. However, the stump will not be taken out without an inspection to make sure the roots are not wrapped around underground utility lines.
Once the stump has been removed, the commission can plant a new tree in its place, said trustee Brian Martin, who is the board liaison with the commission. “However, the land needs to settle first.”
The commission has purchased 11 trees that will either replace trees that will be taken down, or used as new plantings in areas that have no trees, Martin added.
Village trustees hope to keep the bucolic tree-lined streetscape, while making the sidewalks safe to walk.