Stalled stair project irks residents on Gogona Avenue

A city project to rebuild the stairs at the beach access on Gogona Avenue has been stalled for at least two months. The project had to be redesigned when city public works crews learned that the ground under the stairs wasn't what they had expected. Neighbors are unhappy with the city's delay and lack of communication.

A stair-replacement project at the west end of Gogona Avenue that was slated for completion between June and July was repeatedly held up this summer and remains unfinished.

And some neighbors have grown impatient with the city.

“It’s been irritating everybody in a three-block radius,” said a Pacific Street resident who asked to remain anonymous.

As originally proposed, the undertaking seemed “as easy as any construction project can be,” Public Works Director Dan Grassick said.

The weathered wooden stairs providing beach access from Gogona Avenue would be removed and replaced right where it stood with a steel-and-concrete design: a concrete landing at the top, a set of concrete stairs at the bottom and galvanized steel stairs in between. Simple and straightforward.

But, though the stairway portion is likely to be finished within the week, it may take another three to four weeks to finish everything, Grassick said in an email.

“If I lived on Gogona, I’d be frustrated, too,” said Tracy Sund, street specialist with public works, adding that some residents have been calling him to inquire about the stairs.

No progress has been made on the new stairs since mid-July, Grassick said.

Because the ground beneath the old wooden staircase was different from what city crews expected it to be — which they learned only after removing the staircase — the project switched from a “replacement” project to a “redesign” project that required extra permitting from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

“That takes a little bit of time, because we didn’t have a design” custom-fit for the landscape conditions, Grassick said.

The original design was estimated to cost $19,000; the redesign will cost $27,000, he said.

The permit-approval process stalled construction for about a month.

Meanwhile, the stair redesign “got bigger and bigger” as the public works crews gained a better understanding of conditions on the ground.

The bottom steps were moved 25 feet west of where the previous staircase was located. The lower landing has branched off into three directions with three steel columns on the ocean-facing side to protect the stairs from rolling driftwood logs during high tide.

Once construction was postponed, however, it became difficult to synchronize the schedules of the subcontractors, who had other clients to attend to.

“You’re at the mercy of whenever there’s an opening and they can come back and do the work,” Grassick said.

When asked whether the city could have found another pair of contractors, he said there isn’t a huge selection of contractors on the North Coast with flexible schedules.

“We could have hired this out to someone in Portland, but it would have been five times as much — you’ve got to pay for the travel and so forth,” he said.

One reason the city chose to focus on the Gogona Avenue beach access staircase — the first of several planned overhauls — is that there’s another beach access about 270 feet south on Gulcana Street.

“I thought, OK, even if this project gets held up — which it did — at least there’s another set of stairs,” he said.

But what bothers many of the residents of Gogona Avenue and nearby streets, almost as much the unfinished staircase, is a perceived lack of communication from the city as the project has been continually delayed, the anonymous resident said.

“I know six to eight people who live around here who haven’t heard anything, and there’s speculation and hearsay and nothing tangible,” she said, adding that the situation would be easier to deal with if they were receiving regular updates from the city.

Grassick sees her point.

“That’s one thing we haven’t done a really good job on, is getting a hold of all the property owners and saying, ‘OK, here’s the status of this project,’” he said. “We could have done a better job of communicating.”

To be sure, ”every time the city staff goes down there, we’re a popular target,” he said.

“It’s just so insane,” the resident said. “It’s been a long, hard summer, let me tell you, and not having that access just made it exponentially worse.”

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