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Helena's Beattie Street trailhead project to resume after judge denies injunction

Helena's Beattie Street trailhead project to resume after judge denies injunction

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A construction worker hangs signage Monday as construction started on the new Beattie Street Trailhead.

A construction worker hangs signage in April as construction starts on the new Beattie Street Trailhead project. The project was delayed more than month after a Helena couple filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction.

A district court judge has denied a Helena couple's request for an injunction against the city's proposed Beattie Street trailhead upgrades.

Construction on the approximately $300,000 infrastructure project, which had been delayed by the litigation since April 9, is slated to resume Monday.

City Engineer Ryan Leland said in an interview Wednesday that contractor Helena Sand & Gravel is already remobilizing, but with rain in the immediate forecast, work is not expected to begin in earnest until next week.

The city will need to pay Helena Sand & Gravel an $8,500 fee to remobilize equipment and workers and must also pay $1,550 for every day the project was delayed, which comes out to about $62,000.

In early March, the city commission approved a fiscal year 2020 budget amendment that allocated funding for the project, including an approximately $150,000 cushion to account for unforeseen problems.

When asked if the additional funds set aside for the project would be enough to cover the fees resulting from the legal action as well as the cost of potential change orders requested by the contractor, Leland said that has yet to be determined. 

"It's going to be close," he said. "We're still in negotiations with Helena Sand & Gravel as to what the final cost will be."

The city is already dealing with an $18 million budgetary shortfall for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 after its finance division failed to secure loans for a variety of infrastructure projects, forcing the departments of public works and transportation to delay many undertakings until 2022 or later.

The initial contract for the Beattie Street trailhead called for a two-month timeline. Leland said he expects that to remain the case and that the project should be wrapped up by mid-July.

The trailhead will remain closed to the public until the project's completion.

The Beattie Street residents who filed the lawsuit, Nicholas Sovner and Cheri Thorton, asserted in court documents that Leland had agreed to a land swap in 2013 in an effort to prevent the city from expanding the proposed parking lot onto city-owned land to the immediate south of the couple's home.

Thorton stated the plan was to give the city a strip of land that they owned on the western side of Beattie Street. In exchange, the city would abandon its claim to an alley that ran through the lot on which the couple later built their $500,000 home.

The city commission approved the land swap in a Dec. 2, 2013, resolution.

However, the final plan for the project presented in January ultimately incorporated the land the couple wished to remain in its natural state. According to the city, that land was necessary to the project in part because Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking spots are needed, and the required grade could not be met on Beattie Street.

Lewis and Clark County District Judge Kathy Seeley noted in court documents that "(Sovner and Thorton) seek to enforce the 'understanding' they had of statements made by the City Engineer and a City Commissioner. They have cited no writing memorializing any formal agreement by the City to such terms..."

"There is also little indication that the parking lot, when completed, will constitute a nuisance to Plaintiffs," Seeley wrote.

She added that while the couple's objections to the disturbance of their view is understandable, "They have lived next door to a dirt parking lot since their home was built.

"A heavily used trail already affects the privacy of their yard," Seeley said. "Presumably, the dust, noise and light pollution will be largely unchanged."

In separate statements filed April 9, Sovner stated the "vibrations, noise, smells and all else that comes with land construction a few feet from our family house is like torture," and Thorton stated the work "feels like a constant earthquake or that we are in a war zone."

Sovner further stated that he worries about Thorton's health, as she is pregnant.

"I am very concerned about her and our unborn twins' health as I have observed Cheri sobbing, hyperventilating, and seeing 'stars' due to stress caused by the start of construction," he stated in his declaration.

Seeley did limit the hours of construction to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. City Attorney Thomas Jodoin said during Monday's city commission meeting that work had always been conducted within that time frame anyway. 

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