The construction equipment, traffic cones, and yellow-vested workers directing traffic and operating machinery showed up suddenly, without warning, in spring of this year, says Bill Hopkins, co-owner of the Lafayette Flea Market. Traffic through downtown slowed and congested, as asphalt along Lafayette’s S. Public Road was torn up to replace a half mile of natural gas pipelines between Chester Street and South Boulder Road.
The project started in April of 2021 as part of Xcel’s commitment to “system revitalization” to provide “safe, reliable, natural gas services” to its customers, the utility says.
But it’s been over five months since construction on the project began, and the businesses along that stretch of Public Road are feeling the sting. They’re suffering financially, and many say it’s a direct result of Xcel’s drawn out construction on Old Town Lafayette’s main drag.
“We don’t understand. We’ve talked to public services two or three or four times. We’ve talked to the city. The city says ‘it’s not our project,’ public services says ‘the city’s making requirements, that are making it go longer,’” Hopkins says. “But what I’m seeing and what my customers are seeing is that they dig up the street, they put a pipe in, they fill it back in and a week later, they dig it back up. And they’re doing it again today.”
That observation was shared by several different business owners and employees who spoke about the issue. Employees at Senor Gomez, a Mexican restaurant on the block, also expressed confusion over the “open the hole, close the hole” procedure that has been ongoing outside for months now. On top of the pandemic, the construction parked right outside its dining patio has made an already-hard time nearly impossible to survive, they say.
“We have not had a full lunch rush in a long time,” one Senor Gomez employee says. “We’re not the business that we were. It’s been awhile.”
Hopkins claims his bottom line at the Flea Market is down a full six percent since this construction started.
“They’re making it so unreasonably difficult to get through Old Town that I have customers that are leaving their phone number with me, telling me to call them when this is over and they’ll come back.”
On top of losing income, Hopkins says the construction has affected his business in other ways, too. It’s been a challenge getting into or out of his own parking lot; he’s had rude confrontations with some of the construction workers; and he’s had problems with the construction company, Site Wise, telling people to use his private parking lot when they’ve blocked others off.
“It’s very frustrating for all of the business owners in Old Town,” he says. “I’ve never seen a construction project run so poorly,”
Zina Osborne, owner of Delicious Z’s on Public Road writes in an email, “The businesses have had to deal with extreme construction noise . . . constant yelling and profanity from the crew, bathroom use, one-lane traffic, long blocked lanes surrounding the building and non-stop chaos.”
Employees at Senor Gomez were a little more understanding—but still just as confused as others.
“We’ve gotten to know [some of the construction workers] over the past few months. They’ll come in and get lunch, or get a coffee,” the employee says. “We get that they’re just doing their job . . . It’s just kind of one of those tough situations.”
The City of Lafayette contends that neither this project nor its duration should be a surprise for Public Road’s business owners. Businesses were notified about the construction project ahead of its start, they’ve been updated as progress was made, and they were warned that it would go into early fall of 2021, according to Debbie Wilmont the City of Lafayette’s communications director.
Hopkins, however, disagrees.
“Nothing. Never a word said to us,” he says. “We had no idea what was going on.”
Xcel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this project.
Xcel’s Lafayette Natural Gas Project website includes a sign up for email updates on the project. The most recent update reads, “Crews are preparing for final restoration, with an estimated completion date of early fall 2021.” And in a pamphlet distributed to some of the Public Road businesses, Xcel states that it plans on starting “final asphalt paving” the week of October 25 and will work through the week of November 1 to completion (though the pamphlet notes “schedules are subject to change”).
“Sure, like we believe them,” Osborne writes.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Hopkins says.
“They haven’t even started that [paving],” a Senor Gomez employee observes.
The City of Lafayette maintains its sympathy. In a statement provided to Boulder Weekly by Wilmont, the city says, “We recognize the frustration and inconvenience the Xcel gas line project has caused both residents and business owners. We would like to thank everyone for your patience as Xcel wraps up their work on Public Road.”