Senator Stedman steps
into Front Street project
November 23, 2011
Wrangellites may soon be able to drive on Front Street again – thanks to a little help from borough manager Tim Rooney and our Alaskan legislative delegation.
An email sent on Saturday, Nov. 19 from Rooney to Senator Bert Stedman and Representative Peggy Wilson pleaded with them to provide “immediate assistance in obtaining a winter closure for Wrangell’s Downtown Revitalization Project.”
According to business owner Jeff Angerman, contractors told him and other retailers on Saturday that they were not bound by their contract to stop working during the holiday season and would continue to remove and replace portions of Front Street if weather permitted.
“They are weeks behind and none of us expected it to go into the holiday shopping season,” Angerman said. “When they told us that they were going to keep going, our jaws dropped. We told them in no uncertain terms that this could not happen. You can’t lose your holiday shopping season.”
In his email, Rooney added that the project is nearly 6 weeks behind schedule and business owners have been “held hostage by a series of barrels, cones, and construction markers since the first week of August.”
“This morning, business owners are being told that the road will be open for the day after Thanksgiving, but the contractor does not have to shut down for the winter and has chosen to continue to work – even ripping out additional sidewalk this morning,” Rooney said in the email. “Their current plan is to open the road up for the day after Thanksgiving, but to come back the Monday after the holiday and start with more concrete work again, and the road being closed again. This is unacceptable.”
Sen. Stedman added that he forwarded the email to Alaska Department of Transportation Southeast Regional Director Al Clough for consideration of a winter shutdown.
“I asked the director to respond back and see what we could do,” Sen. Stedman said. “I talked to him Friday and my expectation is to see an action plan out of ADOT on Monday by close of business. Both parties have contractual rights, but at the end of the day you can’t shut down business and expect vitality for your community. The solution doesn’t involve preventing access to those businesses.”
Citing contractual issues, neither project superintendent Mike Ashton or representatives from McGraw Construction, the project contractors, would comment on the email.
The email from Rooney came after a period of relative calm at the Wrangell Road and Utility Improvements project meetings – but contention returned last week as Angerman and Rooney made their concerns known about the pockmarked state of Front Street.
Before the public comment portion of the meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 17, Ashton told the assembled group of project engineers, contractors, borough department heads and business leaders about the plan to wrap up the work on the project.
In Ashton’s report to the group on work done in the last two weeks, three of the four benchmarks set for completion were reached.
“We said we would install the water main between Campbell Drive and McKinnon Street, and we did this,” Ashton said. “We also poured the roadway and sidewalk in Phase I and we did that except for the glass, which are working on pouring today. We did not patch the water main trench down McKinnon Avenue but we made a bunch of connections on that so we won’t have to do it next year.”
Additional lighting has also been installed this week, according to Ashton’s revised schedule.
In the coming week, Ashton said the Campbell Drive intersection would be brought to grade, with the curbs and gutters being formed and poured as well.
“We’re doing these things weather permitting,” Ashton added. “We’re doing everything in our power to keep pouring even though the temperatures are getting below freezing.”
A temporary concrete patch running from the front of Otteson’s warehouse to McKinnon Street is also set for completion this week. After the Thanksgiving holiday, Ashton said his goal is to get all the concrete done out to the cul-de-sac.
“We have prioritized things and Campbell Drive is a big priority behind getting Angerman’s and NAPA opened up,” Ashton added.
During the public comment section of the meeting, which had been scheduled to be the last meeting before construction breaks for the winter, Angerman spoke up about what he saw as an inability of the project team to stay on schedule – a move he said is costing him a significant amount of money as the Christmas shopping season approaches.
“Sometimes I feel that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” Angerman said. “Part of my frustration is that we’ve all heard this before and none of it has come to pass. I’m very skeptical that we’re going to be able to get this done.”
Angerman added that, from a standpoint of retailers in Wrangell, the loss of business due to a lack of parking and sidewalks is hurting him and others in the pocketbook.
“Any interruption in our cash flow is a death knell,” Angerman said. “Based on my projections of what my sales are throughout the year, I am down 60 percent since that road closed. I don’t speak for anyone but me, but I’m sure the sentiment is echoed by others here.”
Angerman added that one of the main needs of business owners in the area of Phase II is to have the curb and gutter poured from the entrance of his stores to Buness Bros. and to cover the large trench near Ottesons.
“That is ultimately what we need, in addition to the road being drivable if we’re going to have a good sales season starting in the beginning of December,” Angerman added.
Wrangell’s annual opening of the Christmas holiday shopping season, “Midnight Madness” is set for Friday, Dec. 2.
During the meeting, Rooney pointed out the urgency of having the roadway open and available for shoppers to use.
“My concern is that downtown needs to be open for business and ready to drive on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving,” Rooney said. “In whatever way shape or form, that has to happen.”
“That is not going to be a problem, weather permitting,” Ashton replied. “Right now it is all weather driven and freezing is not stopping us. If the weather is good on the 29th, 30th and December 1st, I can pour out and get all that concrete down.”
According to Ashton, the concrete would need between three and five days to cure before it could take vehicles driving on it. Heaters could be used, he added, to increase the rate of curing for the roadway.
“If you can pull that off, it would be a miracle,” Angerman said. “It is crucial that Front Street be open again.”
Project designer Tobias Lockhart, who sat in on the meeting for project engineer Eric Voorhees, said a backup plan to pouring roadway concrete would be to fill in the remaining portions of open trenches with “D-1” gravel – but added the fix would be temporary at best.
“I think it is reasonable for the contractor to get the curb and gutter in,” he said. “When they’re ready to do the concrete we can look at the weather and the time left and make a determination as to whether they can put the concrete down or whether they need to put gravel down. Perhaps we can use gravel to get you through the after-Thanksgiving sale day.”
If gravel is used, however, Lockhart said it wouldn’t last through the month.
“Contractually, we’re not going to accept gravel for the winter shutdown,” Lockhart added. “Gravel may get us through a couple of your critical days and if the weather warms up before they walk away, we get the concrete in there.”
According to Lockhart, the borough, project engineers and contractors have been working in recent weeks to come to an agreement as to whether gravel could be used during the shutdown.
The next meeting of the project group is set for Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. in the City Hall assembly chambers.
See print edition for complete local coverage. Content (C) 2011 Wrangell Sentinel