HAMMONTON — Residents of Grape Street and some surrounding roads will help determine the fate of their street’s trees at a joint meeting of the Town Council and Environmental Commission on Wednesday evening.

Current plans call for taking down about 70 of the 230 trees in the area to accommodate a major rebuilding of utilities, curbing and road surface, Town Business Administrator and Public Works Manager Jerry Barberio said Monday.

“We’re working hard to get the number down,” Barberio said of finding ways to save more specimens.

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The project involves Grape Street from South Egg Harbor Road to South Liberty Street; sections of North Second Street from Peach to Cherry; and sections of North Packard Street.

Councilman Dan Bachalis — who as head of quality of life for the council is liaison to groups including the Environmental Commission, the Green Committee and the Parks and Recreation department — said he has walked the area with Environmental Commission Chairman Bob Reitmeyer and staff of the town’s engineering firm Adams, Rehmann & Heggan.

“When you look at the percentage involved, it’s small, but it will have a significant impact on what the streetscape looks like,” said Bachalis, who trained as master naturalist at Richard Stockton College. “But we are going to mitigate for the future by replanting as aggressively as possible.”

He said native trees that are well suited as street trees will replace the mostly sycamores and silver maples now growing in the area.

Trees targeted for removal are growing where there is work to be done that would severely injure their roots, such as where a sewer pipe goes through, or had roots that are already compromising the sidewalk and curbing, Bachalis said.

Trees that are dead or have an unhealthy appearance, such as lack of a full canopy, are also being identified for removal, he said, adding the removal is fairly well distributed throughout the work area. But, he said, some sections will lose pairs or trios of trees.

Bachalis said the town expects the work to begin on the project in spring 2014, and the council may hire an arborist to further evaluate some of the trees.

Barberio said funding has to be finalized, but he expects state programs to largely finance the replacement of utilities and that the town will bond to pay for its share of repaving and tree removal and replacement.

An estimate on the full cost should be announced at the meeting, he said.

The trees will be a major focus of the meeting, but all aspects of the project will also be discussed Wednesday, Barberio said.

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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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