Noisy Con Ed work on John Street persists

David Gmach, Con Edison’s director of public affairs, appeared before C. B. 1’s Quality of Life committee on March 15 to address concerns over noise due to construction along John Street. Photo by Aline Reynolds

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Con Edison recently assured Community Board 1 Vice Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes that all of the utility company’s noisy work would be completed by Mon., March 19. But that deadline has come and gone, and the noise has not stopped.

Con Edison workers continue to dig up the street to replace rotting, underground gas mains from the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. The work, which has gone on for months, has disturbed nearby residents’ peace and quiet. Barring any snags, the bulk of the excavation work along John Street should be finished by the month’s end or in early April, according to David Gmach, Con Edison’s director of public affairs, who with colleagues appeared before C. B. 1’s Quality of Life committee on March 15.

But the completion date partially depends on factors that are outside of the utility company’s control, explained Leonard Singh, Con Edison’s general manager of Manhattan gas operations.

“I can’t see through the ground… the pipes were laid in the 1800s,” said Singh. “If it’s a straight shot… within two weeks, we’ll be done. If the pipe has an offset, we have to do additional excavating.”

The news comes on the heels of a well-attended special meeting convened by C.B. 1 and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center on March 6, where John Street residents and businesses railed against Con Edison and other construction project representatives about bothersome nighttime and weekend work.

“So we were given the wrong information about March 19,” said Hughes at the meeting. “Can you give me a simple answer? What is your end date for John Street?”

Gmach’s reply prompted committee members to demand a written timetable of Con Edison’s work schedule.

“One of the reasons why [John Street residents and business owners] are pissed is because they’re not getting the information,” said C.B. 1 Quality of Life Committee Chair Pat Moore. “If you tell them it’s going to take a year… they won’t love it, but they’ll know.”

Gmach promised to send a work itinerary to C.B. 1 by the end of the week and said there is still months’ worth of work to do on John Street.

In addition to the primary work, Con Edison must reinforce below-ground electrical cables in order to avoid having to replace a transformer vault situated in front of 25 John St. that’s out of service. The transformer job would take several weeks and would entail tearing apart the northern sidewalk, Gmach noted.

“We’d like to hold off doing that until post-summer 2012 [or even] 2013,” said Gmach. “The cable work, in contrast, should only necessitate a day’s worth of excavation between now and mid-April in front of 12, 16 and 20 John Street.”

Con Edison also anticipates doing a fair amount of cable installation work tied to the Fulton Street Transit Center project through May — some of which might involve noisy digging, according to Gmach.

The committee also grilled the Con Edison officials about the street plates, which 12 John St. resident Barbara Minsky and others said continued to rattle as cars drove over them in the days after the March 6 meeting.

“Last night was the first night, and I’ve gotten some emails, that people slept, because they closed the street [to traffic],” said Minsky.

Minsky said she would like the street closed or the plates to be properly installed, and also complained about Con Edison’s non-emergency evening work that occurred on the weekend following the meeting.

Con Edison officials didn’t speak to the street plates, but Gmach vowed that moving forward, the utilities company would not be undertaking nighttime work without special after-hours variances granted by the city.

Con Edison typically reserves certain manhole work for evening hours so as not to hamper daytime vehicular traffic. But according to Gmach, the company recently decided to make an exception for John Street so as to accommodate local residents.

Hughes reminded Gmach that businesses are also suffering as a result of the construction work.

“Whether Con Edison can get their act together and coordinate [its] projects, is going to determine the livelihood of these businesses,” said Hughes.

“I understand how disturbing this has been,” replied Gmach.

Following the discussion, the committee voted unanimously in favor of a resolution asking that city inspectors immediately respond to 3-1-1 calls about nighttime and weekend construction work and urging the city to better coordinate with Con Edison to minimize the impacts of construction on John Street and other residential areas in Lower Manhattan.