WILMINGTON — A joint CFPUA-Wilmington construction project has repeatedly restricted access to several Water Street business in downtown Wilmington. As the project reaches nearly a year after its originally planned completion date and another project planned for the near future, one owner, acting as a spokesman for those businesses, says he’s grown frustrated with the lack of communication from the city.
Chad Bean, owner of Imago Hair Studio, said the Water Street businesses between Princess and Grace streets have been dealing with construction for over a year. According to Bean, the work has cut down on foot traffic to the businesses, in part due to the “street closed to through traffic” sign. One business, White Lake Wicks, finally closed its brick and mortar location in February after struggling for months.
Bean fears that, even when the current project is completed, the planned bulkhead work on the U.S. Coast Guard site across the street will put businesses back in the same situation.
“That sat us down in a meeting two years – two and a half years ago – and gave us the timeline and a map,” Bean said. “We’ve been dealing with for a long, long time. And we fear it’s not close to being done.”
Weeks, months, a year
That meeting – and the timeline and map, now timeworn – was about sewer infrastructure improvements along (or, rather, under) Water Street. The construction on Bean’s block was slated for completion in mid-2018. Beginning in March of 2018, Bean said he was told the work would take five weeks. But due to a host of delays, Water Street won’t open to two-way traffic until May, the city now says.
According to City of Wilmington spokesperson Dylan Lee, “the extended closure of Water Street has been primarily driven by the joint City/CFPUA project to install sewer utilities in Water Street. Initially scheduled to be complete in mid-2018, a number of factors, including overabundant spring rains, Hurricane Florence, and the need to adjust some of the deep sewer line to meet state and CFPUA standards have delayed final opening to two-way through traffic until next month.”
Another issue was that the contractor on the project was not aware of a manhole in front of Tugboat Tony’s Bagel Cafe and had to amend its plan, according to emails between Bean and Lee. This issue apparently caused some delay, as well.
Bean also said employees had seen workers removing pipes that had already been installed. According to Lee, while the original pipes were the correct size and type, work crews have had to go back in and adjust the installation.
“Crews are having to re-work portions of the new sewer pipe as requested by CFPUA to achieve the proper slope required to meet state and CFPUA standards. In addition to the grade, the pipe as initially installed also had low spots that could prevent the sewer from functioning correctly. The contractor suspects that some soil settled beneath the pipe, causing the need for the adjustments,” Lee said.
Water Street has periodically opened, Lee noted, “but was subsequently closed for additional work.” That work, which is taking place on the next block over, is using the space in front of the Water Street businesses for a staging area. Though it neighbors construction on the city’s River Place project, Lee said it is the still the CFPUA-Wilmington project.
“The joint city/CFPUA project to install utilities in Water Street is using this area. It is within the limits of disturbance called out in the planning documents, and is permitted for use by the contractor. The contractor has permission to fence and control a much larger area of the surrounding public space than is currently impacted. Both the contractor and the City of Wilmington have taken steps to attempt to minimize impact whenever possible. This is a balancing act however – a larger footprint/laydown staging area allows for quicker completion of the job,” Lee said.
Bean also noted that the handicap access close to the Water Street business has been closed off by construction.
“It’s not something all of my clients need, but I do have clients that required it – now they have to go down the block. Like I said, it’s not every customer but, I mean, it’s handicap access,” Bean said.
Lee said, “handicapped access across Water Street is at the Southern corner of the [Princess] block. The city anticipated this issue and required the contractor to install a temporary sidewalk across the USCG property to accommodate ADA access in this area.”
Bean acknowledged that the city “had to do what it had to do” to complete infrastructure work, but lamented the lack of communication.
“I mean, the fences just go up, we don’t get a heads up,” Bean said, noting that Lee – the city’s liaison to local business has only visited the site once.
“He needs to come down here more often so he can see what it looks like,” Bean said. “Just hang in there, just three more weeks – that’s their thing – just three more weeks they keep saying. But it’s been going on for well over a year.”
Bean pointed to a segment on the issue that aired on Spectrum in late January, where Lee told a reporter the project would be done “in a few weeks.”
Lee said he understood businesses’ concerns.
“We all want to see the road open back up and no one is more affected than the merchants at the Water Street Center. As for communication, we shared new information as we received it. While scheduled sit-down meetings were not frequent, city staff had multiple interactions with the Water Street Center merchants via phone, email and in-person, in addition to always responding to their queries, as we will continue to do,” Lee said.
While the city has said the project will finally wrap, and Water Street reopen, next month, Bean said he’s concerned about planned repair work on the U.S. Coast Guard bulkhead, located across the street.
Lee said the city would “communicate more about this project as it becomes known.”
Asked if the city would consider additional signage indicating that businesses were open – as the city did for the closure Princess Street between Second and Third streets last year – Lee said “the street will re-open in a month. We will look at signage needs again once we know the impacts of the USCG work.”
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001