Residents decry delays in water main repairs; contractor sees completion by Thanksgiving

Michael Aaron (right) enumerates residents’ complaints about water main repairs to Department of Water Management representative John Hart (left) and Mark Atkins (center) from Benchmark, the contractor. – Aaron Gettinger

Staff Writer

City officials got an earful from Hyde Parker residents frustrated by the slow pace of water and road repairs on Harper and Blackstone Avenues and 54th Street.

Representatives from the Department of Water Management (DWM) and Benchmark, the contractor hired by the city, admitted in the meeting arranged by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) that the project was seven weeks behind schedule, and the contractor estimated that repaving would be completed by Thanksgiving.

“We recognize that this is not an easy project for the contractor or the city,” said Michael Aaron, an engineer who lives on Blackstone Avenue. “The water mains are old; they’re fragile. Even if you dig around them, they might break, fail, crack.”

While acknowledging that unanticipated issues cause delays, Aaron said residents have concluded that the job had been handled poorly because of the inordinate amount of time the project is taking. Work began on June 14; no-parking signs were put up a month before that.

Aaron, speaking for the residents, said the parking restrictions were put up unnecessarily early and have stayed up unnecessarily long. He complained about a lack of municipal oversight of the contractor, damaged driveways, scattered construction equipment and litter, effects on trees and communication issues, with no word coming to residents about scheduling, connections to the water lines or parking restrictions.

He also raised concerns about “swampy” conditions caused by the water work and about cement-lined pipes being slid across the ground and streets by forklifts.

“When you handle a pipe in that way, what do you think what do you think happens to that cement lining?” Aaron asked. “It gets abraded; it gets chipped; it gets cracked. It’s not going to give us the service life and water quality that the city is paying for.”

John Hart, with the DWM Bureau of Engineering Services, said the city’s three-year contract with Benchmark for 80 calendar days of work along a specific length of pipe and 30 days for restoration work was bid out in 2016 and will conclude next April.

Mark Atkins with Benchmark said the reason for the delay was an unforeseen utility conflict on the 5400 South block of Blackstone Avenue. The main was to have been installed in the curb lane, but, unknown to the project designers, ComEd was already located there; Hart said the electric utility’s project was also delayed.

Atkins estimated it would take two more weeks to put in all the water mains, followed by a few more weeks of pressure testing and disinfecting them.