Greens Harbor work hits cost overruns but nears completion

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New London — The city has asked the state for an additional $1.8 million to cover cost overruns at a massive ongoing drainage and park improvement project on Pequot Avenue.

The project that started in December at Greens Harbor Beach was supposed to cost an estimated $1.97 million, with federal funds covering nearly $1.5 million. The city bonded $493,625 for the project.

The city has added work to improve and expand usable space at Greens Harbor Park and contractors have run into some unforeseen expenses during excavation work, Public Works Director Brian Sear said.

Despite the delays and added costs, the project continues to move forward and is closer to completion. Sear estimates it will be “a couple of months” before the work is done and the roadway cleaned up, repaved and completely reopened.

The aim of the initial project, first approved by the state in 2016 as part of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program, was to correct historic flooding in the roadway and reconstruct the drainage system that spills stormwater into Greens Harbor Beach.

Sear said the city quickly realized the scope of work needed to be expanded to account for water draining into the park and roadway from a 60-acre watershed area, spanning as far as the parking lot at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. Water has traditionally flooded Pequot Avenue, kept portions of the park wet and carried sediment and contamination into the harbor, leading to swimming bans at the beach.

The city engineered more drainage in the park and added a multi-stage collection and filtration system expected to improve water quality and expand the area of the park. A handicapped-access area was added. The area was graded and concrete slabs added for picnic tables.

Cost overruns, Sear said, are partially associated with the amount of rock encountered during excavation and the discovery that pressurized sewer mains were deeper than expected. The depth of the pipes forced the hiring of contractors to shore up the holes and necessitated blasting and hand-digging in places. Contractors also replaced some older sewer lines.

“It turned out to be a very big deal,” Sear said.

Early on, instead of a complete shutdown and detour around the area, Sear said contractors were forced to construct a bypass road in the park. The city was notified that the railroad overpasses where vehicles were being detoured are too low to permit access of some delivery trucks and emergency vehicles to Fort Trumbull. Contractors were not allowed to completely close off Pequot Avenue for the entire project.

At least one of the subcontractors working on the project was removed after Sear said the company was not paying employees. Sear said it was a minor hiccup that did not cause any significant delay in the ongoing work. Colonna Concrete was hired by the city for the overall work and has completed a host of other projects for the city, including sidewalks and the municipal parking lot.

The initial grant money comes by way of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city has appealed to the state Department of Housing for the $1.8 million. The city has yet to receive an answer to its Aug. 2 request but Sear is hopeful and says Greens Harbor is the city's only free public beach and serves many low-income families.

Sear called the beach area a “really valuable city asset that will be improved, expanded, safer when the project is completed." He said there is already anecdotal evidence that the Greens Harbor Beach is cleaner based on the amount of beach closures by Ledge Light Health District — just one this season so far. However, Ledge Light did not have data immediately available to determine any changes in the water quality at the beach.  

The city worked with its Recreation Department and New England Science and Sailing to make arrangements to “keep as much of the beach open as was practically safe.”

The work has been detrimental to business for at least one restaurant owner. Ozzie Ozkan, owner of Sellfish Restaurant at 260 Pequot Ave., said the project “ruined the entire season.”

In his second year running the restaurant adjacent to Thamesport Marina, Ozkan said he hears constant complaints from customers about the roundabout trek to his area of Pequot Avenue. The stretch includes On the Waterfront — a dining hot spot that was closed by the owner last week due to structural concerns with the building — and Fred's Shanty.

Ozkan said his business is additionally taking a hit from the closing of On the Waterfront because it brought so many tourists and out-of-towners to the area. He was capturing some of the spillover business.

“Since he closed, this entire strip is quiet,” Ozkan said. “There used to be a fight for parking and suddenly, nothing.”

Ozkan remains the only place serving food and alcohol along that stretch of Pequot Avenue and plans to keep his restaurant open year-round, in part to help recoup some of his losses. He’s also hoping to reopen the former Steaks 'N’ Spuds, adjacent to the restaurant, as a breakfast and lunch joint.

Sear said he expects city residents and business owners alike will be pleased with the end result of the work.

“We’re getting into the home stretch,” Sear said.

g.smith@theday.com

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