City hears fire loop concerns

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 14, 2002

City and construction officials offered tentative plans whiledowntown business owners pressed for a more definite timetableThursday during a meeting to discuss the upcoming Whitworth FireLoop work.

The approximately $950,000 water system improvement project willinvolve installation of larger water lines to service theMississippi School of the Arts on the Whitworth College campus andthe rest of the downtown area. The project is scheduled to beginJuly 1 and conclude Nov. 27.

Jeff Green, project engineer, said the first area to beaddressed is the South Jackson Street block between Chippewa andChickasaw. The work will progress from there.

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“You’ll see it done in block increments,” Green told a crowdedState Room audience.

The project will start with a series of excavations to installwater valves in order to shut off sections as work is done. Theplacement of lines is expected to begin July 15.

The first section involves South Jackson Street to Monticelloand West Cherokee Street to Brookway Boulevard. Depending on theweather, that section is expected to take one to two months, Greensaid.

The second section will be the remainder of Jackson Street toCherry Street. The final area will involve West Congress Street toHartman Street.

Concerns raised Thursday from business owners, especially thoseon West Cherokee Street, was how the work will impact them. Theirhope was for the downtown work to be done before the start of theholiday shopping season in September and October.

“That’s getting into our livelihood,” said Cathy Franck, ownerof Castle’s.

Cherokee Street is the narrowest street but will also requirethe most attention, Green said.

Construction officials touted plans to spend five days perblock. Having the block closed to traffic during that time willallow work to be done quicker and more efficiently.

“We will take all the precautions we can to make this job go assmooth as possible,” said G. Dale Smith, general partner withcontractor Greenbriar Digging Service.

Smith cautioned, however, that the five-days per block plan wasnot set in the contract. He said it was something being done tohelp businesses and customers, but the contractor would be dealingwith many unknowns and the potential for problems.

“There’s more than likely a good, good chance we’re going tohave problems,” Smith said.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said infrastructure, like water lines,needs to be replaced in cities across the country. With old linesunder many city streets, Brookhaven was no exception.

“We’re dealing with plumbing we haven’t seen since probably theearly 1900s,” Fernald said.

The project calls for new eight to 12 inch lines to be installedin most of the downtown area. Green said the current four to sixinch lines are insufficient to handle to upcoming load.

“You put a big demand on them, and you’ll strip them out,” Greensaid.

Fernald said the major benefits will be increased water serviceand fire protection once the project is completed.

“This affords us the best opportunity to get it all done at onetime,” said Fernald, who also mentioned city plans to pave downtownstreets in the near future.

Regarding paving, construction officials said a limestonematerial will be put in after new lines are installed. The contractcalls for a new asphalt surface over trenched areas before theproject is done.

After new lines are laid, Smith said water testing will have tobe done and that could take several days. However, the road will beusable during the testing.

Green said service taps will be made so customers are notwithout water during the work. Officials expected customers to bewithout water only for a short time while service is switched fromthe old lines to new lines.

Fernald said local media, and possibly a information telephoneline, would be used to keep citizens up to date on work progressand plans. Smith said that and block scheduling would allowbusinesses to gauge when work would be approaching theirestablishments, but he also indicated no guarantees on atimetable.

“It’s going to be next to impossible to give an exact scheduleof where we’re going to be at any particular time,” Smith said.

Franck expressed frustrations about a general lack ofinformation and vagueness of plans regarding the project. She saidaldermen did not know details and calling the mayor was no helpeither.

“He either cusses you out or hangs up on you,” Franck said.”Welcome to our lovely city.”

Franck questioned why the project could not start now, insteadof in July, and whether working at night was a possibility.

Fernald said the start date was set by the contract. Green saidSunday work was possible, but working at night would costsignificantly more, be less productive and have more potential forproblems because of limited visibility.

Since businesses stand to lose customers and revenue, Francksuggested a corresponding proportionate amount be deducted from themayor’s and aldermen’s salaries. She also questioned whether waterbills and property taxes would be pro-rated to account for the lostbusiness and revenue.

“I kind of think we need to even out the score,” Franck said.”That gets us on the same page.”

Fernald said there would be no cessation of water service duringthe work.

Alderman-at-large Les Bumgarner, who also owns the Locker Roomon West Cherokee Street, was the only alderman present atThursday’s meeting. He defended the project and expressedconfidence in the contractor.

“We’ve got to put this down there, and we expect these people todo it with the least inconvenience possible,” Bumgarner said.

Responding to another business owner’s concern, Green saiddetours would be set up for out-of-town customers. Referring to aproject he worked on in Jacksonville, Fla., Green said customersare understanding and willing to walk a short distance as long asproper signage is in place to inform them of activities.

“That’s what’s nice about doing this block by block,” Greensaid.

Fernald added the parking areas by the railroad are never fullduring the day.

LeAnne McCaffery said she hopes to open Creative Friendzy, aschool supply and scrapbook business, by August 1. It will belocated on West Cherokee Street across from the Haven.

“I’m concerned about UPS getting there and getting myinventory,” McCaffery said. “I have to have it every day inJuly.”

Elsewhere in the project area, BellSouth officials said theyhave a major conduit at the Monticello Street and Jackson Streetintersection. If it is cut, they said, all phone services in thecounty would be out about two hours and areas west of town out forpossibly two days.

“This is a big concern,” said Irene Robison, claims manager.”They’re going to shut everything done if they cut it.”

Construction officials said the line is marked on constructionmaps and they were aware of it. They said a BellSouthrepresentative could be on hand when work is done around theline.

Fernald said Greenbriar had done other work for the city in thepast and had worked ahead of schedule on some projects. He expectedsome of the fire loop work to go quickly, but unknowns like oldwater and sewer lines could impact the schedule.

“Once you get started, sometimes things go faster and sometimesthere are problems,” Fernald said.