By Donald Wittkowski
When Sheena DiStefano peers out from her home at the corner of 33rd Street and Simpson Avenue, she is confronted by a gauntlet of orange construction cones, detour signs and torn-up roads.
She said the noise from the tractors, earthmovers and cement trucks is so loud that her 2-year-old daughter, Penelope, has trouble sleeping.
DiStefano won’t dare allow Penelope to play on the front lawn for fear she would stray into a street now crawling with construction equipment.
“Look at him fly by. He didn’t even bother to look when he went through the intersection,” DiStefano exclaimed of the driver of one earthmover that rumbled by her house, churning up rocks and dirt in its wake.
The source of her anger is a seemingly never-ending $6.5 million road and drainage project that has disrupted the neighborhoods between 28th and 34th streets between West Avenue and the bay.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” DiStefano said while sitting on her front porch, holding Penelope on her lap. “You can’t even drive around here or do anything else.”
Keenly aware of the frustration building in the normally quiet neighborhoods, Mayor Jay Gillian and other city officials are working with the contractor to wrap up the delayed project as quickly as possible.
Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr, who represents the area under construction, believes that the general contractor, A.E. Stone Inc., of Egg Harbor Township, should never work for Ocean City again.
“I don’t think this contractor should ever be used again,” Barr said in an interview Friday. “Their behavior, their performance, is unacceptable. I’ve had enough, the mayor has had enough and, most important, my constituents have had enough.”
Barr made similar comments during a City Council meeting on May 24, when he publicly criticized the contractor for the way it has handled the project.
“This is frustrating – in capital letters, in bold print and underlined 60 times,” he said at the meeting.
When Barr called for more pressure to be put on the contractor, he was assured by City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson that Gillian’s administration is “holding their feet to the fire” to finish the project.
Gillian expressed his anger with the project on May 25 in his weekly “Mayor’s Corner” message that appears on the city’s website.
“I can assure you that – aside from the neighbors who have put up with this major construction project for more than a year now – nobody is more frustrated with this failure to meet deadlines than I am,” Gillian said.
“The city team is using every available tool to make sure the construction company meets its contractual obligation to finish this job quickly and properly,” the mayor added.
In his interview, Barr said Council and the mayor’s office “are doing all we can to get to the finish line.”
A call Friday to A.E. Stone’s corporate office seeking comment about the project was not returned.
The drainage project started promising enough when it got underway last year. The goal was to dramatically reduce the amount of flooding that plagues the surrounding neighborhoods.
The project’s boundaries are roughly 28th to 34th streets from West Avenue to Bay Avenue. Simpson and Haven avenues serve as the spines of the project.
Construction consists of three major parts, including repaving the streets, installing new drainage pipes to replace some that are 40 to 60 years old and building three pumping stations.
The pumping stations, a crucial component of the plan, will help remove storm water from the neighborhoods and channel it to drainage pipes leading to the bay.
In March, Barr held a public meeting with the residents of the Fourth Ward to update them on the progress of the work. At that time, it appeared the road and drainage construction would be completed by Memorial Day. The pumping stations are expected to be done this summer.
But the contractor has fallen behind schedule, Barr said.
“They haven’t met their deadlines,” he said.
Barr now hopes the road work and paving will be finished by mid-June, followed by completion of the pumping stations in July.
In addition to having to endure the construction delays, Barr said the neighbors have also had to put up with piles of dirt and trash left behind by the work crews. He wants the construction areas properly cleaned up.
Sheena DiStefano, meanwhile, is simply waiting for the construction to disappear so that her neighborhood can return to normal. As another noisy earthmover rolled past her house, she shook her head in disgust.
“It’s a disaster out there,” she said.