KNYSNA NEWS - A sudden power outage on Monday suddenly placed the focus squarely on the long-standing roadworks in Union Street again, after the municipality confirmed that the blackout was caused by contractors striking a power line.
Knysna-Plett Herald reported in March this year about the works on the 250m stretch of road that started in October 2018 with a proposed finish date of 14 December 2018. Now nearly one year hence, the project shows no evidence of nearing completion.
Current progress, so to speak, is not sitting well with townsfolk having to seek alternate routes to Waterfront Drive from town, and local business owners. And now the troubles have extended to include a power cut.
"I can't believe they are taking so long," said John Metelerkamp about the Union/Queen streets roadworks near his homeware store Metelerkamps this week. His desk is situated right next to the shop's windows on the Union Street side and he heard the explosion at about 10:41.
"I looked out the window and saw sparks fly and the road workers scatter out of the hole and run in different directions," he said.
When KPH arrived at the scene shortly afterwards, a municipal electrical engineer and workers were scurrying to restore power at the workshop substation.
Municipal spokesperson Christopher Bezuidenhoudt confirmed that the outage was as a result of contractors striking a power line. "The infrastructure is very fragile and the power outage was caused by the contractor striking a high voltage line while excavating," said Bezuidenhoudt.
The municipality insists that the roadworks will be completed by October while Metelerkamp remains worried of a repeat of last year when access to the business was limited because of the roadworks.
The local businessman claims to have lost an estimated R1-million in revenue during the busiest months, between October and December.
"They are already more than 320 days overdue," said a highly irritated Metelerkamp.
He was initially relieved when Union Street was temporarily reopened for traffic on 14 December 2018. "It was a B-grade road but it was okay because it allowed access. This is not a shop where you can find bread and milk. There is nothing here anyone desperately needs, so if you can't get here easily, why would anyone go through the trouble," he reasons.
What happened next frustrates him most.
"About 300 days passed during which absolutely nothing happened. Then the road workers suddenly showed up again about a month ago on the morning of 16 August. Union Street closed again for traffic on 7 September.
"There was just no communication from their side and there seems to be just no direct effort to finish the work. It's like they have dug the same trench at least three times. I have written to the municipal manager, the mayor, the MEC and premier, among others. They are just messing with me.
"I can't continue to run my business like this. The roadworks could be my final blow this festive season," sighed Metelerkamp.
Knysna Fine Art Gallery owner Trent Read, in Thesen House opposite the roadworks, said they are "deeply affected" by the roadworks.
"The dirt, the noise, the dust… and no one can find parking. It certainly seems we're dealing with incompetence," said Read.
Battery Centre owner Andre Howitz nearby said business has taken a knock due to the roadworks.
"Luckily we are situated on the corner and could close our Union Street access and now solely operate from Queen Street. It is inconvenient and we do lose business to the opposition because customers don't see us," said Howitz.
Bezuidenhoudt, however, said it is not true that the roadworks halted for 300 days. "The work will be completed by the end of October subject to weather conditions. Throughout this project the municipality maintained access to the business in Union Street. Any statement to the contrary is void of the truth.
"The municipality also laid the new water pipes alongside the new sewer pipeline. Under normal circumstances, the municipality would wait for the ground to settle before tarring takes place. Due to external pressures and while it is not ideal, the contractor will also tar the section of road," Bezuidenhoudt said.
"Knysna's topography, weather conditions and load shedding added some strain on this challenging engineering project. The tide table and rain contributed to the challenges, for example when the trenches became water logged it needed to be pumped out. The budget for phase 1 amounts to R9.8-million. We have not overspent on this budget," he said.
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