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Blog proves successful PR tool in Oak Harbor water main replacment

Oak Harbor Project Engineer Arnie Peterschmidt, left, observes as Stan Grovdahl finishes concrete work on a Pioneer Way curb ramp. Traffic is now flowing downtown after the recent completion of a water main replacement project.  - Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Project Engineer Arnie Peterschmidt, left, observes as Stan Grovdahl finishes concrete work on a Pioneer Way curb ramp. Traffic is now flowing downtown after the recent completion of a water main replacement project.
— image credit: Paul Boring/Whidbey News-Times

An unlikely symbiotic relationship forged between the Oak Harbor business community and the city resulted in the successful installation of a new water main in one of the area’s most congested areas.

The city was able to pull off the public relations coup largely by continually updating those affected on the project’s progress. Burlington-based Interwest Construction began the undertaking April 28 and finished Monday, 10 days ahead of schedule.

A failing, 80-year-old water main running under the downtown thoroughfare necessitated quick action. The block-by-block project began on Pioneer Way at Midway Boulevard and ended at Ely Street.

Project Engineer Arnie Peterschmidt, knowing that the nature of the construction would be unavoidably invasive for downtown businesses, became a presence at the project site but more importantly on an Internet blog.

“I tried to model if after a weather report, telling people what they could expect next,” he said Monday as he watched city crews put the finishing touches on a curb ramp. “It was almost like a daily diary. It seemed to have worked very well. I didn’t get one phone call from a single citizen asking, “What’s next?’”

Peterschmidt and other city departments have been utilizing blogs to disseminate information and head-off any possible misunderstandings with the public. The project engineer said he will employ the communication tactic on future projects.

“Any time we’re working on a project with disruptive impacts on lives and businesses, we’ll do that,” he said.

Tearing up a street that had gone undisturbed for eight decades was a bit dicey. But aside from a few hiccups, the water main replacement was uneventful.

“Small problems stayed small,” Peterschmidt said. “The city water department and the contractor worked very well together.”

When the water service failed for a day, water department personnel got creative.

“They purchased all of the garden hoses at ACE,” Peterschmidt said with a laugh. “The temporary connection at least provided the businesses a small flow. Hair salons and restaurants can’t operate without water.”

The city provided bottled water to some restaurants upon request to provide customers H20 that didn’t come out of a green, snake-like tube.

“We didn’t want them to have to serve water out of a garden hose,” Peterschmidt said. “We got great cooperation and support from people along the street. The contractor was very respectful of the public. It was a great working environment and everyone went the extra step. We were fortunate to have a contractor willing to go the extra mile.”

The project engineer was effusive in highlighting the cohesiveness because not all undertakings go smoothly. Elsewhere, Peterschmidt has observed projects unravel because of tempers and poor communication.

“This was better than we could have asked for,” he said.

The water main blog can be viewed at www.pioneermain.blogspot.com.

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