Napa Valley Updates

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wall along the water

By KEVIN COURTNEY, Register Staff Writer

Friday, September 8, 2006 1:11 AM PDT

Funding uncertainty hangs over the completion of the downtown floodwall along Main Street, but one piece of good news has everyone smiling.A pedestrian trail at Napa Mill is being built where nearly everyone wanted it: on the river, not between commercial buildings.When citizens pushed for the elimination of the 100-foot gap last summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local flood control district argued that a last-minute redesign might delay construction and jack up costs.Because of a series of improbable developments, the redesign is saving the flood project money and did not cause any delays, officials say."It's a victory for the community," said Harry Price, the developer of Napa Mill, whose dogged questions about a gap in the river trail sparked community opposition to the flood district plan.The Corps of Engineers is building a 12-foot-wide trail that will wrap around Napa Mill, with seven feet cantilevered over the river. "It will be a real promenade," Price said during a tour last week. "It will be gorgeous."The redesign, which will result in a larger Riverbend Plaza, not a smaller one as the Corps of Engineers had proposed, came about after Price financed an engineering analysis of the federal plan.The study concluded that several million dollars could be saved by building a different kind of floodwall next to Napa General Store and Angele restaurant. This savings would pay for a cantilevered promenade that stays along the river's edge.In another surprise, Price's study found that the floodwall could be kept essentially where it is on the east side of Napa Mill. The corps had planned to push the wall back 25 feet, up against the rooms at the Napa River Inn.With the wall in either location, the river will convey the same amount of flood water, the study concluded. This is because the water speeds up when the channel is narrowed, to compensate for the reduced size of the channel."It's counterintuitive," Price said. "This is beyond our wildest dreams, too."Price praised the general contractor, R.L. Brosamer Inc., for entertaining a redesign. The corps double-checked the alternative design, concluding that it was correct. Speeded-up flows at the bend at Napa Mill will not endanger the eastern shoreline or properties down river, he said."It hasn't cost time or money," Heather Stanton, the local flood project manager, said of the reconfigured floodwall and promenade. "It's serendipitous.""We're going to end up with a far more beautiful project," said Bob Brosamer, owner of R.L. Brosamer. "You have to take your hat off to Harry Price. He had the vision. He funded the early engineering."Brosamer estimated that Price's design would save the corps $100,000. Under federal rules, the contractor and the federal government would split the savings.The possibility of this small savings on a portion of the Napa Mill flood wall is dwarfed by the flood project's larger financial problems. These concerns threaten to delay construction of the floodwall between Third and First streets, including the reconstruction of Veteran's Memorial Park, for yet another year.Brosamer was awarded a $19 million federal contract in August 2005, for the riverfront improvements from Napa Mill north to First. Work was to have finished this winter.Then Congress halted multi-year contracts, forcing the corps to freeze construction. Because of limited funds available in 2005-06, the Brosamer contract was broken into two parts.Only $10 million was available this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, which turned out to be far too little to keep construction south of Third on schedule, Brosamer said.The cost for work south of Third is going to be closer to $15 million or $16 million, Brosamer said Thursday.With money running out, Brosamer delayed finishing the floodwall along the Channel Properties parcel, just south of Third, this summer. Money was shifted to more critical work -- the construction of a cofferdam around Napa Mill -- so work can continue there this winter in the new federal budget year.If the cofferdam -- a watertight enclosure to permit construction near the river -- can be finished by October and new federal funding comes through, crews can work all winter without further delays to the project south of Third, Brosamer said.If the total cost of the work south of Third ends up at $16 million, that would leave just $3 million in the original $19 million contract for construction north of Third. That won't be nearly enough.Greg Kukas, the Corps of Engineer's project manager, said his office has estimated that delays caused by new federal financing rules could increase project costs by as much as $5 million.Nothing will be known until negotiations with Brosamer are concluded, Kukas said. Brosamer's costs for staying on the job an extra year, plus higher costs for materials, have yet to be determined, he said.If there isn't enough money to complete the stretch from Third to First in 2007, it could bump to 2008.