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Palm sidewalk project delayed, over budget

Auburn City Council OKs further studies on possible asbestos, lead
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Construction for the Palm Avenue sidewalk and bicycle lane project has been delayed until summer of 2013 and costs are rising as the Auburn City Council authorized more funding for additional environmental review to address concerns over asbestos and lead deposits. The Council on Monday approved funds not to exceed $31,300 for Phase II of the environmental site assessment, bringing the total costs so far to $254,655, according to city documents. The City will have to figure out how to bridge the gap between the remaining $849,307 in funds, largely made up of federal grants, to cover expenses including construction costs that Public Works Director Bernie Schroeder estimated to be $1.1 million. And that engineer’s estimate could be on the conservative side, she said. It does not include the added costs to mitigate possible asbestos and lead exposure during construction, depending on what the study concludes, Schroeder said. “It was not expected that we were going to run into some of the issues that have come up related to this specific area,” she said. In October last year, Schroeder told the Journal estimated project costs were about $900,000 and now it is projected to be more than $1.3 million. The city received $896,579 through the Federal Safe Routes to School Program and $102,033 from Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funding, which required the city match with $103,350 from its own coffers – bringing the project’s total funds to $1,103,962. Councilman Keith Nesbitt, who helped spearhead a campaign to make Auburn more walkable, said the city will attempt to revisit those grants to address the added costs. “Some of that will come out of our funding,” Nesbitt said. “But a lot of times when they find this, you can go back and revisit those and get a little more grant money.” The project will add a separated sidewalk and bicycle lane on Palm Avenue south side from Grass Valley Highway to Nevada Street with one of the goals being to provide safer passage for students walking to and from E.V. Cain Charter Middle School, located on the same side of that road. Construction had been slated to complete before this school year, but the first phase of the environmental study concluded in September. The site assessment indicated the location is in an area that could contain naturally occurring asbestos, or NOA, and it has soil that has potential to be affected by aerially deposited lead, or ADL, from vehicle emissions on Highway 49 prior to 1986, according to a city report. The type of rock associated with asbestos at that site isn’t frequently found during projects in the area, but it had been discovered during construction of a movie theatre on Nevada Street, Schroeder said. “Geologically, (it had the) same orientation,” she said. “So I wasn’t completely surprised when that came about.” The next phase of studies will include sampling of soil from the surface and by use of a drill rig. If testing reveals NOA or ADL, mitigation measures will be required in design and construction, the report said. “If it comes back and we’re going to create Pandora’s Box, we will have to take another look at it, but … we have run into areas like this before,” Nesbitt said. “Usually they just come back with much stricter practices with how we handle the jobs.” Adding to the costs and delays along with the environmental assessments have been a redesign to incorporate a landscape buffer between the road and sidewalk, the relocation of PG&E power poles and Placer County Water Agency simultaneously doing a system upgrade there, Schroeder said. Any time federal grant money is involved, additional environmental studies are common, she said. Chelsey Huston, mother of two children in a nearby neighborhood, said the delay is for a good reason, but it’s important the project keeps moving forward. “There are a lot of kids that are always walking around the area so it definitely needs to happen because of that,” Huston said. “Everywhere (near E.V. Cain), you can see them after school, so it does need to get done and it needs to get done for their safety. But it’s good they’re taking the right steps.” Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews