The oft-delayed State Route 14 reconstruction project through downtown Bingen is dealing with a new snag.
In an unexplained mixup, managers at Northwest Natural Gas did not realize sections of natural gas pipeline needed to be moved to accommodate the project.
With the contractor, KLB Construction, on the scene and ready to go, NW Natural has been trying to stay one step ahead of crews working on the highway. The snafu has led to some delays as KLB's scheduling is shifted to allow for the pipeline work.
Steve Sechrist, public affairs manager for NW Natural in Portland, said he could not explain why the pipeline wasn't moved before KLB got started with the construction project.
"We don't understand yet ourselves why we have the conflict. We're trying to figure out why," he said.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said he too did not know why NW Natural did not anticipate the problems with the existing pipeline's location.
"I don't know why the mistake was made and I wish I did," Prigel said. "We started this project about two years ago, and the gas company was pretty responsive early in the process. Hopefully this doesn't cause too many disruptions for the contractor. I will say they [NW Natural] jumped on it once they found out."
City officials warned that it was possible KLB could file a claim against the city and the Washington Department of Transportation for the delay.
At last week's meeting of the Bingen City Council, council member Terry Trantow asked Mayor Brian Prigel if the delays were serious enough that KLB could try to recoup losses from the city.
"Is this going to cost us money?" Trantow asked.
"It could," Prigel conceded. "There could be a basis for a claim."
"Even working 10-hour days and Saturdays, it's still a slow process," said Mike Wellman, who serves as Bingen's city engineer. "There's a lot of rock, and that basalt is very hard."
However, Sechrist denied there is any conflict related to the gas pipeline work.
Sechrist said the company is moving the pipe in sequence in order to stay ahead of KLB's crews.
"Our plan is to keep a few steps ahead of their schedule, and the plan is working well for now," he said. "Phase one is moving the pipeline north of where it is to remove it from the alignment for a stormwater drain."
This week, NW Natural crews are moving approximately 250-feet of pipe between the Hood River Toll Bride and Bridge RV Park.
"That first phase is almost complete, and will be done before the end of this week. We're trying to hurry up so KLB won't be delayed," Sechrist explained. "Our priority is to move our lines out so the contractor can work at a normal pace. That's been done successfully. We're able to consult with WDOT and KLB so they can have enough space to work."
Sechrist added that gas line crews are working "above a normal schedule" to get the work done ahead of highway construction crews.
WDOT's on-site project coordinator said delays caused by the gas pipeline relocation were, so far, minimal.
"We're pretty much on track. We're coordinating the effort between the contractors," said Dan Presler, project inspector for WDOT.
On Monday, Jan Brending, Bingen's city clerk/treasurer, said there was no reason to believe a claim by KLB was forthcoming.
"Claims can be made for a variety of reasons, but we have had no indication that a claim is pending," said Brending.
However, Wellman said he was becoming concerned the SR 14 project wouldn't get completed this year.
"We might not be finishing by this winter. We might have to start up again in the spring, and we'll be banging around on unpaved surfaces until then," he warned.
Council member Laura Mann suggested opening up the downtown area to KLB crews to make sure they had plenty of work to do in the event of conflicts related to the gas pipeline work.
"If I were a business owner, I'd rather have construction continue rather than having it sitting like it is now," Mann explained.
An earlier agreement called for the contractor to stay out of the downtown core during the summer to minimize disruptions for business owners.
However, some are questioning that decision.
"Get it done," said Bob Dobyne, owner of Mirror Image. "There's no traffic downtown anyway with this mess going on."
Mayor Prigel noted that it has been two years since the downtown construction schedule was formulated, and suggested polling Bingen's downtown business owners to see if there are objections to beginning work on the sidewalk and curbs on the south side of the highway.
In a related issue, the council changed its earlier decision about replacing a section of 10-inch waterline at the eastern edge of Bingen.
At its July 1 meeting, the Bingen City Council agreed to replace a two city block segment of six-inch pipe with a new 10-inch line. The objective was to increase the flow of water to Bingen Point to boost fire protection capabilities.
The project was expected to cost roughly $80,000.
During the July 16 council meeting, Mayor Prigel cited costs and "other priorities" as the reason for the change.
"The bid numbers [to replace the pipe] were higher than we thought, and we're also concerned about draining our water reserve fund," explained Prigel. "In light of the situation and the budget, our recommendation is to replace an 80-foot section with six-inch pipe. That section -- near the Big River Diner -- needs to be replaced to make way for the new sidewalk."
Wellman pointed out that further exploration of the waterlines serving the Port of Klickitat property at Bingen Point led to a boost in the amount of available water.
"We've improved the flow of water [to the Port of Klickitat property at Bingen Point] by opening some valves that were partly closed," said Wellman. "The short term problem is solved."