TARGET 8: City admits errors in handling of Sixth Street construction

8 months 3 weeks 12 hours ago Monday, October 30 2017 Oct 30, 2017 Monday, October 30, 2017 7:13:00 PM CDT October 30, 2017 in Target 8
By: Adam Duxter, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - When Brian Coley showed up for work on August 21, he was met at the door not by customers, but contractors. 

Coley, a Columbia native, MU grad, and owner of Coley's on Sixth street, had no idea what was about to take place on his street and for his restaurant. 

"The city did not let us know. They didn't let me know. I showed up one day for work and there was contractors setting up road closed signs and I was like 'oh, okay,'" Coley said. 

The construction in front of Coley's restaurant was part of a larger project for the city- the Flat Branch Sewer Project, for which the city is spending nearly three million dollars to remove and replace underground pipes. 

For Coley, this project has had unforeseen consequences. With every street access point to his restaurant blocked off, he has seen business rapidly decline. 

"With the street being closed down on both sides, it looks like nothing's going on over here," he said. "It's been pretty wild to see the impact of the last six weeks. It's taken nine years to get here, and just like that, business is wiped."

Two days after construction began in August, the water main on Sixth Street broke, forcing a water shutoff. Coley called the city to find out he was on a 24-hour boil advisory. 

This was the first time he said he had heard anything from the city, and it would be the only time for weeks he would have any sort of update. 

As frustrating as the construction has been for Coley, he said the lack of construction on some days has been even worse. 

"I feel comfortable saying there's been a solid three weeks of nothing happening. There have been some weeks where literally nothing has happened. That's concerning to me," he said.

Columbia Community Relations Director Steven Sapp said business owners are always notified of a road closing in front of their place of work well before it happens. 

In the contract for the Flat Branch Sewer Project obtained by KOMU 8 News, there is language stating property owners will receive 15 days notice.

Despite all of this, Coley said he never got a call from the city. For weeks, he continued to go to work as usual. Day after day, he passed the construction slowly deteriorating his customer traffic.

"Our practice is to notify business owners when we're going to have long-term street closures," Sapp said. "We suspect this is a case when one utility thought another utility was making a notification when perhaps none was made."

Sapp admitted the city made a mistake, but said sometimes construction just can't wait.

"We understand that this impacts [businesses] at a level that we don't always appreciate enough. On the flip side of course, we have to do infrastructure improvements and road improvements," he said. 

Sapp said the department is shifting its focus on finding out how the error occurred.

"We are looking to see was there a breakdown, how did that breakdown occur, and how can we prevent that breakdown from happening again in the future," he said. 

Sapp said the city should probably contact businesses impacted, but hasn't.

"Certainly we need to remember to reach out to those who will be affected. It certainly doesn't appear that this has happened in this case. We are all responsible for that," he said. 

For Coley, the construction continues to take its toll. 

"For nine years I've been building this business. How quickly my traffic can be just taken away from me because the city shut down the street is very concerning," he said. "Every week it's gotten progressively worse"

On October 16, Coley took his case to the city council. He said while he can't prevent what happened to him, he hopes that the city makes changes to help any other businesses avoid this in the future.

He also said he hopes somehow the city can find a way to make reparations for what he has lost during the last two months.

Sixth street reopened on Friday, October 27th. 

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