When Rippon Avenue resident Sarah Guetschow was driving in front of her house a few weeks ago, her car slid in the mud, hitting another car and causing about $5,000 in damage to her vehicle.
The problem, she said at the Dec. 3 Hillsdale City Council meeting, is the road conditions on Rippon Avenue, where construction began in the spring to move sewer lines and rebuild the road.
“Something has got to be done more than what is being done,” Guetschow said. “There are puddles at the end of every driveway on Rippon Avenue. You sink down when you drive and then water fills that. I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to do, I’m afraid to back out of my driveway.”
With the project taking longer than originally planned and some claiming conditions are not safe as winter approaches, city officials and council members are eager to find a solution for the disappointed Rippon Avenue residents who demanded answers at Monday’s council meeting.
Many residents mentioned a lack in clarity regarding water boil notices as one of the many issues with the current situation. Director of Public Services Jake Hammel said that boil notices are continuing to be sent out due to progress that is being made with water ties.
“These are precautionary measures and they are necessary, part of replacing water main infrastructure is that we have to shut things down.” Hammel said. “There’s no way around it.”
Asphalt millings have been laid down in several of the high-trafficked areas: intersections of Union Street, Hillsdale Street, some in the the Garden, Mead, and Vine Streets area, as well as Rippon Avenue.
“At this point in the game, we can be part of the solution or part of the problem,” Hammel said. “We can woulda, coulda, shoulda, look back at all the things we could have done, but it doesn’t do any good. That’s being part of the problem and we all need to be part of the solution.”
Hammel said that when the project started in the spring, they fully intended for it to be complete before winter.
“I assure you we didn’t plan to be in this situation,” Hammel said. “We didn’t want to be in this situation, our whole intention was to have this stuff done. But it didn’t happen, so let’s look forward.”
As far as safety is concerned, Hammel said he is in constant contact with the Hillsdale Community Schools’ buses to change any routes if safety does become an issue.
Due to freezing conditions, concrete will not be able to be laid for curbs until the spring, Hammel said. Asphalt also poses a similar problem as plants in the area are closed for the season and asphalt can no longer be obtained. Hammel said that he has no concerns about plowing the unfinished streets and that front plows will be used to clear the roads.
“We will find a way to take care of the snow,” he said. “It’s not impossible and we will get it done.”
Hammel said he is doing all he can to provide Brian DuBois, the contractor for the project, with what he can to make sure the city can get the roads done.
“We won’t violate the grant and risk costing taxpayers $2 million, but we will get him whatever we can,” Hammel said.
While city staff members assured the council and residents that they are doing everything possible to get the project under control, many still expressed frustration and disappointment.
“We’ve all been humiliated by this,” Mayor Adam Stockford said. “Everybody is under a tremendous amount of pressure. Reputations are on the line right now. This council is behind you guys 100 percent. At this point, you guys tell us what you need and whatever it is, we will try to make that happen.”
Stockford was adamant about finding tangible solutions at the Monday meeting.
“We do have to look forward, we do have to come up with some sort of solution that makes that road drivable and livable,” Stockford said. “That’s something that has to happen. It has to be drivable this winter. It has to.”
Hammel assured Stockford and the residents that “nobody is walking away from this.”
“Not the city, not the contractor, We’re doing everything we can do,” Hammel said.
Matt Bell, Ward 4 Councilman, said that more than reputations, jobs are on the line at this point.
“I know you guys are doing everything you can, I know the city manager has been working hard on it, too, but at some point after meeting after meeting after meeting, bringing up these safety issues and other things, it’s not getting done or getting done in a way that is fast enough,” Bell said. “I am really worried about having to do those kinds of things.”
Bell said that the finger was pointed at the council table as well.
“People elected us to do this, so it’s not me saying, ‘You might be fired’, its me saying, ‘We all might be fired’,” he said.
DuBois said one of the main issues with the project was a failure of the Infrastructure Capacity Enhancement grant to put forth the promised funds. Several of his workers quit due to a lack of payment.
“It was June 1 and when they hadn’t received one payment yet, they walked. ‘If we’re not going to get paid, we’re not going to stay’,” DuBois said. “You’d think $38 an hour would pull them out of the woodwork. It doesn’t. You can’t get an operator for $54 an hour, you can’t get them to come. I had to pull a two guys out of retirement.”
Hillsdale isn’t the only city struggling with lack of allotment of funds with this type of grant. DuBois said that similar projects in Adrian suffer from the same problem.
Ward 2 Councilman Will Morrisey encouraged the mayor, other council members, as well as concerned citizens to reach out to their state representatives to get some answers.
“That’s a resource that we should push, I don’t think we do it enough,” Morrisey said.
City Manager David Mackie said there is no single person to blame for the project’s lack of completion.
“This isn’t a simple issue, this is an issue that is created not only by this council, but there are people on the street that caused that issue,” Mackie said.
He cited photos and Facebook posts of children playing in the muddy streets. Many residents were offended by Mackie’s comments, which led him to apologize later in the meeting.
“There’s a lot of burden to go around here,” Mackie said. “I just ask you to have some confidence. We need to pull together as a team, it includes the residents, it includes the council, it includes the staff.”
Mackie said he is working to set up recurring meetings for Rippon Avenue residents and the city to share updates and hear their concerns.