June 2, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado -THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.
The impacts came rhythmically, with a regularity that was almost soothing, unless you were trying to use highly sensitive engineering software about 15 feet from their source, as Bruce Lewis was on Friday afternoon.
As Lewis stood in his stocking feet in his office on 923 Cooper Ave., the walls shuddered. Ripples appeared in a jug of water on a nearby desk. Lewis was practically alone in the office, as many of his employees at his engineering firm, Boundaries Unlimited, had gone home to escape the noise.
About eight feet from Lewis’ property line, on the lot bordered by Ninth and Cooper, workers were driving steel piles deep into the soil.
The piles, long I-beams of steel that are up to 40 feet long and weigh thousands of pounds apiece, are being used to shore up the soil while workers excavate a hole that will soon be home to a new, city-owned parking garage.
Stan Kaiser, project manager on the garage for FCI Constructors Inc., said if work goes smoothly, the pile driving will be done by Tuesday evening, ending the project’s noisiest phase. Workers will not drive piles this weekend.
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Lewis, though, said damage to him had already been done.
“I’ve had a major loss of income these last few days,” said Lewis. “I can’t work in these conditions.”
The pile driving, he said, began on Wednesday and has continued during working hours since.
“It goes all day, and stops and starts as they reload,” he said. “Sometimes you get a break of 15 or 20 minutes.”
Lewis’ office borders the south end of the lot where the parking garage will sit. Kaiser said that’s the area where the piles will go deepest, as the lowest level of the garage there will sit more than 14 feet below grade.
The piles, according to Kaiser, are intended to prevent soil from collapsing as workers dig out the garage’s foundation. As they dig, workers will put lengths of timber between the steel beams, to serve as braces.
“There’s really no quiet way to drive a pile,” Kaiser said. He noted that the four partners constructing the parking garage and library one block to the south have decided to use a less noisy, more expensive method called screw piles in securing the structures’ foundations.
“Other than the sound of the excavator, you don’t hear much with screw piles,” Kaiser said. Unfortunately, though, those piles aren’t sturdy enough for use in excavation.
The parking garage, which will serve the general public, is being funded by the Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority and the city of Glenwood Springs.
“I think money is the driving force of this pile method,” said Lewis, who claims that he has lost a downstairs office tenant, along with several days of productivity, as a result of the pile driving noise. “There are other ways to do this work.”
But according to Kaiser, the city looked into other options before beginning construction and found them infeasible. One method, which involves injecting long seams of grout into the ground to secure it, was impractical because it interfered with neighboring utility lines.
“We weighed all of that, and you’d have to get easements from every adjacent landowner,” Kaiser said.
On Friday, a frazzled Lewis took his concerns to Dave Betley, the assistant director of public works who is the city’s project manager for the parking garage. Betley said there was little they could do except finish the work quickly.
“We’ve taken safety precautions to protect his building, and we have seismic monitoring there,” said Betley. “Now, I think just letting the guys finish the job and get out of there is the best option.”
Lewis said he has spoken with members of the City Council about his plight and is considering ways of seeking compensation for his troubles.
“I’m looking into what I can do,” he said. But I think [the city] just wants me to go away.”