Vandalism. Thefts. Threats with knives or other tools.
Cameron-Reilly LLC, the general contractor in charge of completing the ongoing reconstruction of Thor and Freya streets, claims those and other issues have plagued crews since the roadwork started in mid-March, with company ownership placing the blame on the Camp Hope homeless encampment at East Second Avenue and Ray Street.
Mike Reilly, an owner of Cameron-Reilly LLC, outlined his concerns in a July 19 letter to Mayor Nadine Woodward and the Spokane City Council. He did not return calls for comment.
“While we fully intend to finish this project on time, I can foresee issues if something is not done by the city in a timely manner,” he wrote.
The $8.9 million reconstruction of the Thor-Freya corridor, between Sprague and Hartson avenues, is scheduled to take place over seven phases into the fall, with the first three having taken place along Thor Street before flipping over to Freya.
The Camp Hope homeless encampment is just off Thor Street along a plot of land owned by the state Department of Transportation. The camp, now reportedly home to more than 600 people, wasn’t established when Cameron-Reilly placed a bid on the project in October, as it emerged in December out of a protest that was disbanded outside Spokane City Hall.
“We made our Proposal based upon the conditions that were in place at the time,” Reilly wrote. “Unfortunately, when we started the project in mid-March, we could not imagine the conditions in which we would be putting our employees and other subcontractors and their workers.”
The company leases WSDOT property for a locked storage yard, Reilly wrote in his letter.
Crews have since had issues “from day one,” with break-ins that have resulted in either stolen or damaged construction materials and equipment, including solar panels, traffic signals, rebar and batteries, he said. He also reported instances of damaged portable toilets as well as thefts from work trucks and personal vehicles during the workday.
“Our team spends each morning accounting for lost items and cleaning up the many messes that were made the previous night,” wrote Reilly, who estimated the company spends an estimated $2,800 per week “on vandalism alone.”
Reilly wrote Camp Hope residents “are creating a very unsafe environment, especially for our female employees.”
He claims workers have been subjected to “vulgar and suggestive comments,” while needles found on the worksite have caused stoppages.
“While I sympathize with these homeless people and the unfortunate situation that they are in, I have to take steps to protect my business, employees, and subcontractors,” Reilly wrote in his letter to the city. “I hope you are continuing to look for solutions for this city issue.”
In May, the Spokane Police Department reported a marked increase in the number of calls for service in the area within a quarter-mile radius of the encampment, with police at the time saying the calls have ranged from medical to criminal.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear acknowledged while crime has spiked in that area, “not everyone living at Camp Hope is a criminal.”
“Council and The City have prioritized finding solutions for the encampment and providing options to the 600+ homeless,” Kinnear said in a statement. “Council is patiently waiting for the opening of the Trent Shelter, and the sooner it opens, we anticipate it will reduce vandalism to local businesses and city construction equipment. I would also ask as SPD resources are available, they are used to mitigate the crime.”
The city’s plans for a new 150- to 250-bed homeless shelter on East Trent Avenue are an element of Spokane’s proposal for $24.3 million in funding offered by the state Department of Commerce through the Rights of Way initiative, a program aimed at relocating homeless individuals living at encampments along state rights of way into better living situations.
Public Works spokesperson Kirstin Davis said the city doesn’t have reason to doubt Reilly’s concerns.
Davis described Reilly’s issues as unusual, saying the staging areas and storage yards used in these sorts of projects aren’t typically disturbed. Davis said she is not aware of any change orders to the contract to accommodate the reported vandalism.
“We are doing everything we can to mitigate and to see where there’s ways that can be better,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, it’s just a tough situation. We’re trying to get the project done and it’s hard to navigate those kinds of situations, especially (since) it’s not something we’re used to.”
Work to watch for
Freya Street has been closed from Sprague to Hartson avenues as part of the reconstruction project. Two-way traffic has now been detoured to Thor Street.
The Wellesley Avenue eastbound turn lane at Wall Street in north Spokane will be closed on Tuesday.
The southbound and northbound curb lanes of Nevada Street between Princeton and Longfellow avenues near NorthTown Mall will be closed Tuesday.
The southbound curb lane of Crestline Street between Hoffman and Longfellow avenues will be closed Tuesday.
East Riverside Avenue between Sherman and Grant streets near the University District Gateway Bridge will close Monday through next month for installation of a sidewalk.
The National Night Out Against Crime is Tuesday, which will close Wall Street between Spokane Falls Boulevard and Main Avenue downtown from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
City crews will be performing crack sealing on North Foothills Drive between Division and Hamilton streets.
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