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Uptown businesses frustrated

Sixth Street business owners say compensation may be needed for construction issues

Businesses along Sixth Street in New Westminster braced for some frustrations and slower business when they were told in March that their street would be torn to replace water and sewer lines.

But after almost four months of construction, noise, dust, street closures, loss of parking and accidents forcing several businesses to temporarily close, some of the street's mer-chants and restaurateurs are fed up.

On July 28, construction crews with contractor J Cote and Son Excavating hit a water main, sending a flood down Sixth Street and into the basement of the Old Bavaria Haus restaurant.

Owner Sunny Manihani had to shut down the restaurant for almost three weeks while he had repairs done and equipment replaced - a big hit during an already very slow summer.

"Our costs have already reached over $150,000. It's passed that," Manihani said. "Of course, we lost so much business even before the flood, because of the construction."

Manihani estimates he has lost $10,000 to $15,000 in sales since work began.

Manihani said his damages and some of his lost revenue will be covered by insurance, but he does not expect his insurers to take the hit lying down.

"Once they are finished, 100 per cent, then they're going put together the numbers, then they're going to go after the city and J Cote," he said. "They're going to go after the city because the city hired the private contractor who broke that water main."

Barely more than a week later, J Cote crews hit a gas line outside the River's Reach Pub and liquor store, forcing the kitchen to shut down.

"They pierced a gas line right at lunch time, which just enveloped and filled our liquor store and our pub. Everyone that was in here

left," said manager Pete Saran. "We had about 50 or 60 people walk in and walk right back out."

Saran said he understands the need for the work to be done and he appreciates the support Mayor Wayne Wright has shown, but the drawbacks from construction have been far more than he anticipated. So much so, it's time to start talking with the city about how the pub and other businesses on Sixth Street can be compensated. "We didn't realize the extent it would affect our business. They've had Sixth Street blocked off essentially for three months, and they're just going back and forth, back and forth and back and forth, so it's hit us really, really hard," he said.

Saran said between the pub, its newly completed but barely used patio and the liquor store, the losses are substantial even without the gas line break.

"We've lost around $50,000, I would say, at least," he said.

Saran said he worries that the construction delays mean potential customers are getting into the habit of avoiding Sixth Street.

Saran said he also questions whether the city chose the best method and contractor when it came to the work.

Jamie Cote, owner of J Cote and Son Excavating, said his employees are working with extra caution, but New Westminster's ancient infrastructure is a challenge to deal with and some accidents are inevitable.

"What you have to realize is that street is like 100 years old. The records are very shoddy as to what's in the ground because nobody is around that put it in. The guys go with much due care and attention at all times, but every time you put your bucket down in the ground, you don't always know what's underneath it," Cote said. "They use detectors, they use the plans, they go back and forth."

As for the inconvenience, Cote said his staff are doing everything possible to mitigate the construction's side effects, but the sheer scale of the job makes it hard to satisfy everyone.

"We're dealing with thousands of people going through there every day, keeping traffic flowing, keeping things moving, trying to keep the parking to the max of what we can. But to do a major, major upgrade in a heavily urbanized area that's as old as that, there is a massive amount of work that has to be done," he said.

When it comes to compensation, Wright said he expects incidents like the water main break will be covered by insurance, but businesses typically do no receive compensation for lost revenues due to inconvenience.

"If it impedes a business and it's their fault, then they have insurance for it. But it can't be for other reasons, for example blocking parking," he said. "Our contractors have all their insurances up to date."

Wright said city staff are examining whether cases like the River's Reach merit any compensation.

Wright said the magnitude of the job meant the city had to contract the work out, and opting to replace utilities lines on opposite sides of the street one at a time was the least disruptive way to do it.

"The other way of doing it was to shut down the entire street for the entire summer, and that's what we didn't do," Wright said.