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Wail, Columbia! Reconstruction drags on

Community Newspaper Group

A stalled street reconstruction project on Columbia Street is paving the way for bad blood between local residents and the city agency charged with overseeing the work.

Back in December, the city’s Department of Design and Construction said work would resume on the $22-million infrastructure project in February, but it still remains in purgatory, making local roads and sidewalks — left in various stages of disrepair — pure hell.

While the Columbia Street portion of the project is completed, the Van Brunt Street part, from Degraw Street to Hamilton Avenue, is not. But in anticipation of the work, traffic has been diverted from Van Brunt south of Degraw Street— which is a truck route — onto local roads.

The delays also mean a massive staging area on Columbia between Kane and Degraw streets have been standing idle, blighting a neighborhood weary of insufferable delays.

“People just want this over,” said local resident Brian McCormick, a board member of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association. “The big picture is that there isn’t any work being done.”

The project was expected to span two years, but has now stretched half a decade. The delays prompted Community Board 6 this week to demand a firm schedule so that it can at least share the news with locals.

“It seems that our faith in the city’s ability to properly manage this project has been met with silence by the very people who we trusted to act on our behalf,” Craig Hammerman, the board’s district manager, wrote to the city last week.

“Whether due to mismanagement or neglect, our community is paying the price for the unacceptable amounts of extra time and money this contractor has successfully extracted from the city,” the letter reads.

Matthew Monahan, a Design and Construction spokesman, said he took “strong exception,” to Hammerman’s speculation. He said the agency is waiting for a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, and once it is granted, the agency will be mobilizing work crews.

“We expect that to happen in the spring,” he said.

The excavation work has unearthed water that needs to be pumped out to Buttermilk Channel, and doing so requires a water discharge permit, Monahan noted.

The community board had been lobbying for the work since the 1980s and became involved in its planning in the 1990s. Funding delays have previously stalled the project, but money needed to resume work was approved last October. The project includes new water mains, combined sewers, catch basins, hydrants — along with sidewalk and roadway reconstruction.

Columbia Street resident Norman Cox, the president of the neighborhood association, applauded the community board for continuing the fight.

“I think its about time we got some action,” he said. “If this is suppose to be a capital improvement project — the whole point is to improve.”

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