Thursday, December 7, 2023

Carolina Beach boardwalk construction pushed back to fall

Looking north from the current end of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk at Harper Avenue. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Looking north from the current end of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk at Harper Avenue. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

The town of Carolina Beach has decided to rescind the awarding of the contract for the northern boardwalk extension Tuesday due to concerns about finishing the project in time for the summer tourist season.

Town council voted to give the contract to Paragon Building Corporation last month for $727,211. The company was to be given a timeline of 100 days to complete the work from the notice to proceed, which would have taken the project into late June had the work started last week as was initially announced. However, according to Town Manager Michael Cramer, no contract had yet been signed.

“We had started the paperwork, but nothing was ever executed,” said Cramer, noting that no money had been exchanged and no construction had begun. “We were still in negotiations.”

During Tuesday morning’s town council workshop, Cramer updated the elected officials on the status of project and said there were strong concerns from some of the owners of rental properties that line the beach where the boardwalk will be built.

“They were appreciative that we were trying to get it done before the season, but very concerned that this would have a negative impact on their visitors,” Cramer said.

Those concerns included lack of direct beach access, which is a draw for people who rent oceanfront properties. During construction of the boardwalk, all wooden accesses between Harper Avenue and Pelican Lane (the length of the extension) would have to be demolished. Cramer said there would be some accesses opened up when there was no heavy equipment around, but it could still be a public safety hazard.

“People come here for that access to the beach,” Cramer said. “[But] because it is a construction zone, we don’t want to put anybody at risk that’s either barefooted or wearing flip flops and crossing a construction area.”

As with any construction site, noise is also a concern. Cramer said that had the project started this month, most of the heavy construction for the foundation would be done by April, but there would still be noise until the boardwalk was completed.

“We’re really not able to mitigate the noise issue enough to calm the fears of the concerns of the loss of revenue,” said Cramer, who said the people from Paragon worked with the town to try and alleviate the concerns of business and property owners. “We feel like we have been very forthcoming in trying to push the project as hard and fast as we can to get it done by the season, but we do not believe that that’s going to work out.”

Cramer gave three possible options to the town. The first was to go ahead with the current contract negotiations and have construction take place during the first part of the tourist season. The second was to split the project in half and build the boardwalk up to the Hampton Inn just north of Harper Avenue, which could open as soon as July, and finish the rest of the extension in the fall.

That brought up a different issue, because according to Cramer, all oceanfront Hampton Inns are required by their company to have a direct access path to the beach when they open. The town offered to pay for the hotel’s wooden access as it would have to cross the town-owned boardwalk. However, if the project is not completed before they open, the hotel would have to pay to build their own access and be given credit and eventually reimbursement for it by the town. It would also have to be built to match up with the yet-to-be constructed boardwalk extension.

The third option, which Cramer said “doesn’t make everybody happy,” was to rescind the awarding of the contract, put out a new request for bids later in the summer, and start the project in the fall after the visitors have left.

“I just feel like it’s too late in the season to start,” said Mayor Pro Tem LeAnn Pierce. “I was uneasy about it in the beginning. I just think it makes more sense to wait until the fall.”

Councilmember Steve Shuttleworth agreed and thanked Cramer and the contractors for consulting the oceanfront property owners first before beginning work.

“I appreciate you reaching out to the owners out there and making sure that we’re not impacting their fragile business as it is,” Shuttleworth said. “So while it’s not a perfect solution – not having it done by Memorial Day – we’re better off, in my opinion, waiting until the fall.”

This option was voted on and passed unanimously by council. Cramer said a new request for proposal would probably be advertised in late July, and Paragon and other companies will be welcome to bid on the project again.

“It definitely has not been an easy project,” Cramer said. “But I think that we’re erring on the side of caution for the residents and businesses, and that’s really what we’re all about.”

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