Portage sidewalk plan causes controversy

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While Portage’s mayor calls continuous, new sidewalk construction, that’s part of more than 15-year-old law a safety necessity, Summit Street and River Street area neighbors are furious about the laws implications.

About 50 neighbors have signed Summit Street resident Pat Madani’s petition, upset they have to pay for the construction and eventual sidewalk cleanup, like snow removal.

“I don’t like a sidewalk slicing through my property. No one walks in this neighborhood. We don’t need sidewalks. No one walks on River Street that much. They don’t need sidewalks,” Madani said. “We have taxes to pay, which we’re happy to pay. But things that are not necessary, we don’t want to pay for. And a sidewalk is not necessary in this neighborhood.”

Neighbors also do not buy the law’s underlying safety argument, saying few will use the sidewalks and the construction slated for next summer will ruin their yards.

“That’s frustrating being pushed onto something you don’t want. That’s always frustrating,” River Street resident Dennis Vesely said.

However, Mayor Bill Tierney said what some residents consider their yard is actually the city’s right-of-way.

“Even though you may think that belongs to you, and you’re responsible for cutting the grass, and raking the leaves, and everything else, and you’re responsible for cleaning that sidewalk once it’s built. It doesn’t belong to you. You’re responsible for it,” Tierney said. “That right away belongs to every citizen in Portage. And again I’m looking out for everyone. It’s my job as mayor to look out for everyone, to look out as mayor as the entire city and I hope they don’t consider me as heartless. And I’m looking out for everyone’s best interests.”

Tierney insists, based on the age of the law, and more than two year’s public notice of the Summit and River street phase, residents should not be surprised by sidewalk construction aimed at making sure the city is eventually connected by a sidewalk system so anyone can walk through Portage neighborhood’s without potential danger.

“Yes you can call it a targeted area this year. But the entire city is targeted for sidewalks,” Tierney said. “If you have a child who’s young, or a person who’s old, or anywhere in between you have the right to go on a sidewalk, and not be forced to go into the street.

Neighbors said they did not get enough notice, and would like to see the law changed.

The more than $1.5 million project also includes widening streets, adding bike paths, and replacing sewers.

Sidewalk cost depends on home’s size, so each neighbor’s bill will be different.

The city still has to take bids, so residents will not know how much they will have to pay for the sidewalks until early next year.