Concerns aired at town hall-style meeting

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

With the city facing a tight timeline to finish reconstruction of Ridgecrest Boulevard, City Engi-neer Loren Culp facilitated a forum last week at Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union conference room that allowed contractors and the impacted business owners to share information that could help find solutions in a situation Culp described as “hammer to fit, file to finish.”

“I thought it was a very informative and helpful discussion,” said Culp. “We got good input from our merchants. That gave our contractor a sense of some of the sensitivities in this project, and I think helped him understand the requirement of keeping sites accessible to local traffic and businesses.”

The issue erupted at the June 4 meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council, where proprietors complained about the negative impact the project has had on businesses along the boulevard. City Manager Dennis Speer said the project was delayed by failure of utilities, namely the IWV Water District, to complete work by deadline.

He said that in order to complete the project by the 210-day deadline — not to mention the end of construction season — the project managers changed its strategy about two weeks ago. Businessowners said this change left them unable to adequately plan for contingencies.

Water District officials also noted that the time allotted by the city to execute their tasks was inadequate to accommodate the legally prescribed protocol for putting projects out to bid. Further, the district was dealing with incomplete data for what was buried under the pavement, and had to wait for other utilities to clear out before being able to work in the space.

During last week’s meeting, representatives of the city and water district gave project history, updates and other details to a packed house.

Among the points of clarification were the explanation of the “soft” closure — which discouraged through traffic, but allowed clients and residents into the construction zone. Businessowners said that better signage and visible flagmen would make the area more inviting to clients seeking entry.

District and city officials also gave listeners an explanation about the technical and logistical challenges of the job.

“It’s a little like dancing,” said Culp. “But we are oof going to learn what your dance steps are so we can accommodate you.”

Ridgecrest Chamber of Com-merce representatives were on hand to gather e-mail addresses, and have since put together a database that will receive regular updates on the project.

Chamber CEO Nathan Ahle also noted that as an agency, the chamber is not under the same resctrictions for signage as contractors. He offered to put up signs that make it clear to drivers that businesses are open during construction.

“I appreciate this meeting and I appreciate you being here,” said Swap Sheet owner Peggy Breeden told facilitators. “But if we do another project — any project — let’s have a meeting like this beforehand so we can all know what to expect.”

Story First Published: 2014-06-18