Sewer project having only minor impacts on Route 26 businesses

Though the prospect of partial road closures raised deep concerns in area businesspeople when the project was announced last year, it has been business pretty much as usual along Route 26 since the start of the Millville sewer project on Jan. 2. And, for the most part, business owners are happy to see what is happening with the project — even if it is fleetingly inconvenient.

Kiki’s Kids provides preschool art classes during the day and after-school art classes for children, as well as special events like art-themed birthday parties where parents supply the kids and Kiki’s supplies the art. They have been open since September and rely heavily on word of mouth.

Owner Keely Webber said she knew something was going to happen in her business’ neighborhood but didn’t know it was sewer work and didn’t know when.

“The owners mentioned the road widening, so we knew something would happening out here eventually,” said Webber. “I’ve been dreading it for a couple days, but I knew it was coming that first day because all the trucks were in the parking lot. They were very accommodating, though, and cleared them out for us.”

Webber said that A.P. Croll representatives were straightforward with her and told her about their concerns for the telephone pole in front of her business and that they would keep a close eye on it. “We’re OK — we’ll see for day two,” she said.

She added that she hasn’t received any complaints from her patrons.

“I haven’t gotten any complaints from parents — yet. Luckily, the birthday parties are on weekends and they don’t usually work weekends.”

Owners Bill and Donna Lord of Lord’s Landscaping were involved with the project from the beginning and so far only have good things to say about the process.

“We went through the whole process, and the county was terrific,” said Bill Lord. “We weren’t caught unaware and they really tried to accommodate us by doing it now. The guys at A.P. Croll have been great.”

“It would have been a lot harder if it were April or May,” added Donna Lord.

Besides the inconvenience of having to go to the post office because the mail carrier can’t get to their on-site box, business at Lord’s has not been affected much because they are in their slow business period.

“And the post office has been great too,” added Donna Lord. “Things are arriving in March. The store is getting filled. We’re lucky. Plus, it had to be done, so there’s no real use in complaining.”

The Lords own the land that Lord’s Landscaping sits on, as well as the neighboring Weidman building and Solutions Plus. One of the two properties is old enough that it has a cesspool, and the Lords said they are ready to have the modern touches of a central sewer system.

“We would have preferred not to have to do it, but they did it,” added Bill Lord. “And we’re anxious to get up to snuff.”

Mustapha El Soloh at Solutions Plus added that, with the exception of delivering some computers to people who couldn’t get it the parking lot, there was no real big change for his business — since on-site technical assistance is available from them anyway.

“A few people complained,” he said, “but we just took their computer to them. Now [the workers] are past us.”

Steve Smith, owner of Summer Hill Builders, a custom home builder that has been in a location next to Solutions Plus since June, also has few complaints about the sewer project and only accolades for A.P. Croll, the contractor responsible for the job.

“I’m really a destination-oriented business,” he said. “My customers are usually by appointment, so there’s not a lot of walk-in traffic. A.P. Croll has done a really good job to keep it moving and, besides having to go get my mail at the post office, I haven’t been affected.”

Representatives from Fat Tuna Bar and Grill said they have been affected a bit by the project but added that customers keep on coming.

“We had a great season last year and hope to have a great one this year,” said Carl Parrill. The locals keep coming.”

He added that business is better now that the construction is past them. But he said A.P. Croll were always very accommodating to the business and its customers.

“They always kept an opening so people could get in and out,” he said.

Any inconvenience that they endured with construction is fleeting, though, when it comes to the big picture of central sewer coming. “Oh, yeah, I’m kind of glad it’s happening,” Parrill said.

According to the Sussex County Engineering Department, Sussex County Council’s contract with A.P. Croll – Contract “C” – will install sewer in Banks Acres, Banksville Park and a 1,300-foot section of Route 26.

To minimize impact to local business owners, Contract “C” is limited to the section of Route 26 that extends from Old Mill Road west to the bridge near the Millville Town Hall, “with an additional schedule limitation that requires construction to end April 30, 2008.” Future work on the sewer in that area of Route 26 will not begin until after Labor Day 2008. The county expects that construction in these areas be completed in its entirety by January 2009.

Additional work on the roadway itself is still pending with the planned expansion of Route 26 to three lanes along the entire stretch from the Assawoman Canal to Clarksville. State budget issues have delayed the road expansion project, which was originally set to start in 2008.