By Donald Wittkowski
The neighborhoods between 28th and 34th streets remain cluttered with heavy construction equipment and “Road Closed” signs, but there may finally be an end in sight for a troubled drainage project that has frustrated city officials.
Responding to complaints from local residents, Ocean City officials have been trying to pressure the contractor to wrap up the disruptive drainage and road work this month. Related construction on three new pumping stations will likely extend into July, a city councilman said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr, who represents the neighborhoods within the construction zone, said Thursday he is encouraged by recent talks between the city and the general contractor, A.E. Stone Inc., of Egg Harbor Township.
“We’re having a positive dialogue and I’m confident this will come to a resolution shortly,” Barr said.
City spokesman Doug Bergen said in a brief statement Thursday that the city “is continuing to work with the contractor to make sure the project gets done as quickly and effectively as possible.” He did not give any dates for completing the work.
As negotiations with the contractor continue, Barr remains hopeful that the city’s new interim business administrator, George Savastano, can “iron out the details” for the project’s completion. Savastano was appointed last week by Mayor Jay Gillian after the city’s former business administrator, Jim Mallon, resigned to take a job in the private sector.
“I hope the new business administrator is able to work something out,” Barr said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to get the project done in a matter of weeks, except for the pumping stations.”
Up to this point, Barr has been a vocal critic of A.E. Stone. At the May 24 City Council meeting, he blasted the company and said he believes it should never work again for Ocean City.
“The people are frustrated, tired and exhausted. I’m frustrated, tired and exhausted,” Barr said in an interview Thursday.
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 contractor is overseeing a $6.5 million road and drainage project designed to ease persistent flooding in the neighborhoods from 28th to 34th streets between West Avenue and the bay.
City officials had thought construction would be finished by Memorial Day weekend, just in time for the start of the bustling summer tourism season. However, the work continues to drag on, forcing the neighbors to endure ripped-up streets, detours and noisy construction equipment.
One of the neighbors, Sheena DiStefano, who lives at the corner of 33rd Street and Simpson Avenue, called the project “a disaster” during an interview last week with OCNJDaily.com.
“It’s absolutely horrible,” DiStefano said while explaining that her 2-year-old daughter, Penelope, has had trouble sleeping amid the rumble of construction vehicles rolling past the house.
Barr noted that the neighbors have also had to put up with piles of dirt and trash left behind by construction crews. He said Savastano is working with the contractor on a plan to clean up the area.
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.