Our View: Communication Key To Successful Sewer Project

With excavators slated to begin digging Monday, we've already heard some rumblings from Orleans about potential problems related to the downtown sewer project. Main Street merchants are concerned about shoppers being able to access their stores as work continues over the next few months. A few years back, Chatham officials dealt with the same issues during sewer work in commercial areas, and came up with a workable plan that kept the public informed and business owners if not completely happy, at least satisfied that they were being heard.

After some initial stumbles, Chatham officials, working with their contractor and engineer, came up with a public relations plan involving a combination of on-site signs and regular website updates that managed to do a pretty good job of reflecting what was actually going on as crews installed sewer mains along Route 28. Every effort was made to retain as direct access as possible to businesses. When detours were in place, there were signs directing motorists to the best route to reach specific businesses, both electronic signs and large printed signs that could be manually changed as the work area shifted. The town's consultant maintained a website that provided up-to-date schedules of the work as well as lists of businesses that were open and how best to access them. The town also took out newspaper ads to make sure the public knew which businesses were open during construction.

Chatham's sewer work was spread out over a wider area than what's going to be happening in Orleans, where the work will be centered right in the main commercial downtown area. Keeping access open – a single lane for traffic or avenues to major parking areas – will be a challenge. It's critical that the officials responsible for the project maintain a clear and constant line of communication with both the public and business owners. Police plan to update their Facebook page and Twitter feed on a daily basis; a website would also be helpful, something that the town should ask their consultant to develop and maintain, just as Chatham's did. Keeping close tabs on how things go in the project's initial days will also be critical; adjustments will probably have to be made, and communicating how best both businesses and the public can work within the parameters of the digging, road and lane closures and other inconveniences that are necessary to improving the community's coastal water quality will be imperative. Orleans could get a few tips from Chatham, and Chatham, too, could learn a bit about major roadwork in a heavily concentrated business district as it prepares for the upcoming West Chatham Roadway Project.

Good communication will be key to the success of the Orleans project and will inform how residents view future sewer work.