Construction in Nampa has some residents feeling like ‘hostages’; did they have fair warning?

Lisa Oviatt feels like a hostage in her own home. She said her captor, however, can’t be reasoned with.

Downtown Nampa is undergoing a makeover. A $2.8 million project to completely rebuild 2nd and 3rd streets from 12th Avenue to 16th Avenue began March 27 and is scheduled to be complete in August, according to the city.

Nampa has ensured that, during the day, one lane is open for traffic on all afflicted streets. For the next two weeks, however, night construction will take place to expedite the initial removal of pavement. The contractor, Idaho Materials and Construction, is working at a lowered nightly rate to speed things up, according to Nampa Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Amy Bowman.

The end goal is well-paved roads and sidewalks that meet the requirements of the Downtown Historic Streetscape Standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Underground utilities and sidewalk corners are getting a face-lift, too.

But the work is extensive and making a bit of a mess.

“They have this machine that essentially is, chunk by chunk, taking all the asphalt up,” Bowman said. “They’re tearing up the roads so they can put it back down.”

After-hours construction comes at a cost, neighbors say. From around 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the areas on 2nd and 3rd streets being reconstructed are completely closed to traffic, requiring detours to navigate through the chaos, though both streets are not expected to be closed at the same time.

Depending on whom you ask, the residents from 14th to 16th avenues had either 13 months to prepare or less than two weeks.

Residents in one area, specifically on 3rd Street close to 16th Avenue, said they did not learn their block would be affected until 10 days prior, when a city engineer went door-to-door offering ear plugs, a flyer and his apologies.

“We have a 7 p.m. curfew, and I’m 58-years-old. I don’t need a 7 p.m. curfew,” Oviatt, who lives on 3rd Street, said with a chuckle.

The city, however, said it provided information about the construction affecting their homes as early as February 2017.

“We have spent resources and time to notify the community through the last year and a half,” assistant city engineer Jeff Barnes said.

For residents like Les Larson, the construction teeters from inconvenience to a potentially life-or-death situation, regardless of how much warning was provided.

Larson, 63, has congestive heart failure. Should he need an ambulance during construction hours, the time it takes to get around all the roadwork and find parking could prove fatal, he said. The equipment also kicks up dust, forcing Larson to wear a surgical mask. The noise, he said, limits his sleep to less than the normal three or four hours a night he usually gets.

“My daughter has specific instructions to sue (the city) if I can’t get an ambulance,” Larson said.

Who knew what, and when?

Nampa’s downtown construction was initially scheduled to include 2nd and 3rd streets from 12th Street to 13th Street. The lower-than-expected costs of the project and an additional bump of funding led to 14th, 15th and 16th streets being redone as well, Barnes said.

Residents like Oviatt and Larson said they didn’t find out about the construction until roughly 10 days beforehand.

Barnes, however, said the public was informed of the updated construction in January, and the residents in the other affected areas were aware up to one and half years ago. In documents provided to the Idaho Statesman from the city, the first notice that 2nd and 3rd streets, up to 14th, 15th and 16th avenues, would be affected occurred in a note mailed to businesses and residents on Feb. 28, 2017.

The city also provided the Idaho Statesman with additional information on timelines and notifications residents were given. Included were dates for community meetings, open houses and door-to-door visits that took place more than a year ago.

“From the first of the year, we began (letting them know). We have talked to (them),” said Barnes, who noted that he personally went down and spoke with residents last Wednesday. “Not that it’s going to be easy, but I feel like we’ve tried to help out.”

The issue, however, isn’t that Oviatt wasn’t informed of the initial project, she said; she admits to getting the letter and “filing it away.” Her issue is that she says she was told in a subsequent letter last May that her area would not be impacted after all. It was only once an engineer came to her house in mid-March that she learned that her area was under siege, she said.

“The fact that it’s actually happening is not a big, huge concern to me. Because it’s beautifying our city and I love my city. I love living here,” Oviatt said. “And yet they alienated us. … I’m like, you’re giving us 10 days’ notice telling us we can’t come home for four months.”

While Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said she wasn’t sure of the specifics of Oviatt’s block, she was confident that city workers had done sufficient work in getting the word out.

“I do know that we have worked very hard with the neighbors,” Kling said.

Without sufficient notice, Larson was unable to give his landlord his notice of his intent to vacate the property — something he would have almost certainly done if given proper time.

“If we had known this was happening, I would have given my 30 days’ notice and I would have been out of here,” Larson said.

Neighbors voice other concerns

Oviatt and her neighbors said they will have to park their cars on their lawns and expect to do so for the foreseeable future. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it has to do; street parking is impossible at the moment. Her trip to Zamzows to buy lawn supplies is on an indefinite hold, she joked. Residents drive on the sidewalk and maneuver between trees to park.

Though the city said it has not received any recent formal complaints about the inaccessibility of streets, Bowman said she understands the frustration.

“(Contractors are) doing everything physically possible, knowing that there is an inconvenience,” she said.

Dan Beals is another resident who has had to rethink how he goes about his everyday life. His wife parks her car on their 3rd Street lawn, as she has to be to work early. Beals parks across the street, where a neighbor gave him permission to park, he said.

Beals, who has a heart condition, said he can walk a block at best without feeling shortness of breath. When construction on the sidewalk and crosswalk begins, he will be forced to take an indirect route that Barnes estimated is an extra half-block’s distance.

To the afflicted, that’s a big difference.

“I may not be able to use the crosswalk to get to my truck, and if I have a doctor’s appointment, I’m probably going to have to walk this way, down to the gas station and come back up the other side of the road to get to my truck,” Beals said. “And that’s not happening.”

Neighbors voiced concerns about response times for police and fire department members during potential emergencies. Nampa Police Department spokesperson Tim Riha said it has not been an issue for officers in the area thus far, despite the road closures and barriers.

“It really isn’t a hindrance to us at all. You can get around the barricades,” Riha said. “It hasn’t (affected) how we do our jobs.”

Utilities in the area are also getting upgrades, specifically the water systems. They will require “short-term” shutdowns that could last a few hours, though the city will try to give residents 48 hours’ notice of a water stoppage, Barnes said.

There is also a noise factor playing into neighbors’ concerns. Larson, already concerned with breathing and a heart issue, said he has so much trouble sleeping with the noise that he goes out and watches the workers late at night and in the wee hours of the morning; it’s all he can do.

The leveling device the workers are using? Beals compared its noise to that of a major car crash.

Beyond being inconvenient, neighbors are finding it difficult to live their everyday lives.

“If they would work with us, we’d be more than glad to work with them,” Beals said. “They need to be courteous and look out for the elderly and the disabled.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz