ISLAMORADA -- Construction crews for village sewer contractor Layne began paving along the northern half of the Old Highway on Upper Matecumbe Key last Friday, eight days after Village Council members publicly lambasted the slow pace of that portion of the project.
"It has taken longer than I had hoped to finish that section, but [we're] almost there," Layne's local manager Wes Self wrote in an email Friday afternoon.
Self and his public information office Jennifer Miller didn't return phone calls over several days last week for information on what caused the delay. Layne is also known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada.
Supervisors for Redland Company, the subcontractor that installed the sewer pipes on the 1.3-mile segment of the Old Highway between Whale Harbor and the Islander Resort, also didn't take Free Press calls.
The project's pace was the subject of intense criticism at the July 23 Village Council meeting. Work along that stretch of the Old Highway began in mid-January, meaning the road had been torn up for more than six months before repaving began on Aug. 1.
"It is absolutely nasty," Councilman Dave Purdo said at that meeting.
Councilman Ken Philipson, whose Tropical Optical eyewear shop sits along the project area, even went as far as to suggest withholding payment from Reynolds.
"It's grossly inefficient, unprofessional and something needs to be done," he said.
The long time frame for completion of the project area was due to multiple factors, Tom Brzezinski, an engineering consultant for Islamorada sewer project watchdog Wade Trim, explained last Friday.
Notably, he said, the area was the first in Islamorada in which the contractor had to install three different lines: a low-pressure line to service some properties, a vacuum line to service other properties and a force main to send sewage north to Key Largo's treatment plant.
"It's a little bit more complicated," Brzezinski said. "It's the first time we've encountered it on the job, and it's taken a little longer than we'd hoped."
The project's location in the most densely developed portion of Islamorada also slowed progress, Brzezinski explained, since more cuts had to be made for connections to private properties and because more allowances had to be made for traffic.
Repaving was also delayed over the summer, Brzezinski said, when testing of the lines revealed leaks that had to be repaired. Layne had previously planned to complete repaving by early July.
At the July 23 council meeting, Mayor Ted Blackburn provided a balance to the criticisms of his colleagues on the dais when he praised the contractors for finding the leaks prior to paving the street.
"I think that's the system working, quite frankly," Blackburn said.
Still, the long construction window has been inconvenient for the Ocean House lodge, which sits along the oceanside of the Old Highway, in the midst of the project area.
"The quality of our guest experience has diminished because of the noise," Manager Lorelei Kepler said last week.
Repaving was expected to continue through the end of this week or into the following week, Brzezinski said.