The city of Gillette is pushing back the start time of roadwork on Lakeway Road.
The project “will not move forward this year,” said city spokesman Geno Palazzari. “(It will be) spring 2021, at the earliest.”
The City Council unanimously voted against a $5.67 million bid by DRM Inc. of Gillette because it was about $2.12 million more than the $3.55 million budgeted for it from the city’s Optional 1% Sales Tax fund.
The city attributes the high bid price to there being only one project bidder, a high availability of other work in the area and the location of the project.
The work would have included milling Lakeway Road from Highway 59 to 4J Road, performing sanitary sewer pipe work and overlaying it with a new surface. It was projected to start sometime in May and take eight to 10 weeks.
The city will now go back to its consultant, and request that it takes another look at the project and find a way to break it down into smaller projects.
“That way we can extend that out over multiple construction seasons, only utilizing cash on hand,” Palazzari said.
The city would not be starting from scratch, however. The biggest change will involve the scope of the project, he said.
The ‘Complex’ project
While the Lakeway Road project has stalled, for now, progress is being made at the Energy Capital Sports Complex.
As of Wednesday, a waterline had been installed to extend service to the area the ballfields will be built. Dirt work will begin when the area dries out, Palazzari said.
The reason the sports complex project is proceeding is because contracts have already been signed.
“The contractor and construction management team have already started the project,” he said. “There would be little sense in ceasing construction when it has already begun. There would also be financial and legal ramifications.”
It also could add to the number of people that are unemployed, Palazzari added.
“If they aren’t working, then what are they to do with their employees?” he asked. “Contractors plan months in advance in preparation for projects of this size.”
The city had awarded DRM Inc. of Gillette a $5.77 million contract to build three new fields. About $4.51 million of that would go toward building two synthetic turf multi-use fields, drainage systems, domestic water extension, perimeter sidewalks, fencing, electronic conduit for flood lighting, landscaping, irrigation and a parking lot.
The remaining $1.26 million would pay for the construction of the third field, which would be located south of the two fields.
The city in March hired PCA Engineering to serve as the construction manager at risk, or CMAR, to oversee the work.
For awhile Wednesday, there was a party on Eighth Street. It contrasted the near ghost town atmosphere many Gillette neighborhoods have adopted while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 1 and 3 p.m., dozens of motorists drove down the street, turned onto Veterans Drive then honked their horns or revved their engines as they approached the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center.
About half the residents at the facility were allowed to attend each parade to limit the number of people gathered to watch. Some held signs saying “Thank you,” and others in wheelchairs waved and smiled as they got some much needed social interaction with their friends, neighbors and loved ones.
Now weeks into a coronavirus lockdown and moratorium on any visitors, residents at the Legacy and their families have made significant sacrifices as they continue to try their best to handle their new circumstances.
Even from a distance, just seeing people and their signs and messages of hope were uplifting, Legacy residents said.
“This is great,” said Yvonne Buckey as the parade of cars slowly drove by on a sunny afternoon.
Her sister drove by in a pickup and waived an American flag to Buckey, who said her sister “stuck to her promise.”
With much of Gillette and the nation shut down or restricted, simple things Legacy residents had looked forward to haven’t been able to happen. That includes seeing visitors and having lunches or outings with friends or family.
“It’s been a strain,” Buckey said. “I used to see my sister almost every day. It’s been tough on all of us, but we’ll get by. We’ll get through this.”
To get the residents out of their rooms and into the fresh air for a few moments, the Legacy and Campbell County Health arranged for the drive-by parades so they could see their loved ones and others who wanted to show they haven’t been forgotten.
“This day was wonderful,” Buckey said. “I think it’s wonderful that they’ve taken their time and got everybody together, and took the time to do it for us and our families. I just thank them a lot.”
Rhea Parsons came with her family to say hello to her grandmother, a Legacy resident, who had been used to seeing visitors on a regular basis before COVID-19.
Parsons called her grandmother Wednesday morning and told her to watch for their three-car convoy in the parade.
“She told me, ‘I feel so loved,’” Parsons said.
For the community to show up is great for everybody, Parsons said.
Becky Thompson said the parade was “fabulous.”
“The weather is gorgeous (and) it gives people a chance to be out and participate in an activity that will help bring smiles to the residents and smiles to us,” she said. “It just feels good.”
A day outing
For some, Wednesday afternoon was a brief but welcome escape from the coronavirus and how it’s dominated nearly every aspect of daily life.
Tom Wolff showed off his 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air for the first time in a while to say hi to some of his friends at the Legacy.
“Plus, it’s an excuse to get out of isolation. That way you got a reason to go somewhere other than the grocery store,” he said. “They do this once a year in the summer, but yeah, it’s a good thing.
“Any time you can interact with people, especially people who are having problems other than being elderly, they are sick or rehabbing from something, it is a good thing.”
Tommy James and his family brought their 1956 Ford Fairlane.
“It gives us something to do,” he said, adding that the Legacy residents “need our help.”
“I’m hoping someday when I get old I get help and have people that care about me,” James said.
Thunder Basin High School sophomore Eric Thompson showed some love to his great-grandmother on his Yamaha 250 motocross bike.
“I’m happy I get to go out and use my bike and stuff, which is nice,” he said.
Before the parade, Thompson said he attached a few balloons to the bike “to make it kind of partyish.”
His mother, Becky Thompson, said her husband’s grandfather has some trouble with his vision and she wasn’t sure he would see a sign if they had one, so she decorated her car with hearts to get his attention.
“We’re just thinking about the families who are separated from their loves ones,” she said. “It just seemed appropriate.”
‘We love you, stay strong’
Parade participant Michele Hurchanik said she was pleased to see a large turnout, adding “that’s what our town does.”
“It’s very important to let them know we’re thinking of them,” said Ann Rossi, Campbell County Senior Center executive director. “It was definitely important for all of us.
“Many of the seniors in Legacy we know, and so it was very important for us to let them know that we’re thinking of them. We’re all in it together, so we’re all getting through this together. It was definitely important for us to have a presence.”
The Campbell County Senior Center brought a few of employees on a bus that was decorated with a sign that read, “We love you, stay strong.”
“We’re all in this together and we have to remember that,” said Janelle Avery, a Senior Center driver. “If we could put a smile on one senior it’s worth it.”
People sometimes wait on hold for hours to be helped and an unprecedented number of first-time filers for unemployment have the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services working overtime to deal with claims mostly from people out of work because their employers have been closed because of COViD-19.
“The numbers are up dramatically, three-fold and at times eight-fold, but that’s happening all over the country,” said department director Robin Cooley during a Wednesday afternoon coronavirus press briefing hosted by Gov. Mark Gordon.
Because many of those filing unemployment claims haven’t done so before, “they don’t know how to handle the process,” she said.
Cooley acknowledged people sometimes have to wait on hold for hours or get busy signals and can’t get through at all to have their questions answered.
“We know the frustration,” she said, adding that people can file their claims online for the best results.
Her department also is moving people around to handle more calls and has added more temporary staff to beef up the capacity of the call center, Cooley said.
It’s one symptom of a larger COVID-19 problem in Wyoming, and one that Cowboy State residents shouldn’t dismiss because the state overall has had low numbers of confirmed cases and is the only U.S. state without a coronavirus-related death, Gordon said.
“My heart goes out to those who are struggling,” he said. “I hear from them every single day.”
The governor said he gets emails and voicemail messages from people who have lost their jobs because their employers had to shut down to comply with his COVID-19 orders. That includes people who can’t pay their rent or mortgage because they’re suddenly out of work.
What those people are going through “is very much on my mind,” Gordon said. “We are looking at every avenue we have to be able to relieve that pressure. I have unhappily more often than I’d like heard from (those) people.”
While he wouldn’t specifically address an executive order against evicting or foreclosing on people who can’t make their payments because of the new coronavirus, Gordon said he has explored his legal options and what he can and cannot use an executive order for.
“Stay tuned,” he said. “We’ve been working on every legal avenue we can.”
Testing, testing …
Gordon also said Wednesday that he has signed a letter requesting a federal disaster designation in the face of the pandemic and its effects on the state.
He’s also concerned that needed medical supplies and COVID-19 testing supplies ordered by the state have been diverted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has been seizing supplies and diverting them to coronavirus hot spots around the country.
“What we’ve found and what other states are finding is, unfortunately, more often than any of us would like, is that those are being diverted by the federal government,” Gordon said. Those are “confirmed orders that were supposed to come our way.”
He said he understands that the urgent nature of those high-population hot-spots do take priority, but that FEMA can’t be all-or-nothing in deciding who gets those supplies.
“In the process of making sure of getting all those supplies to the hot spots (let’s not) forget the places like Wyoming, Montana and Idaho,” Gordon said.
Like much of the nation and world, Wyoming continues to be very short on reagents to test for COVID-19, said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer.
While 3,900 sample collection kits were distributed to counties across the Wyoming, the state Department of Health will continue to prioritize testing because there just aren’t enough materials to process them all, Harrist said.
She also said that while Wyoming hasn’t had a confirmed COVID-19 death, people shouldn’t let down their guard.
“The virus is as serious here as it is anywhere else,” she said. “I think we’ll see deaths here.”
There also are likely many more people with coronavirus than is officially known, Harrist said.
“I can’t give specific numbers on what I think is out there,” she said. “We know there are more cases of COVID-19 than we’ve detected through laboratory testing.”
She also said that the WDH is going to add more information to its daily update on the coronavirus in Wyoming. That will include reports of “probable” cases of patients who exhibit symptoms of the virus and have had contact with a confirmed case. In most of those cases, people are quarantined at home and monitored by local health personnel.
Campbell County Public Health has been reporting something similar for a couple of weeks in local “possible positives.” Unlike the state’s “probable,” cases, the county’s are people who exhibit symptoms and could have the virus, but haven’t been tested or confirmed and are quarantined at home. As of Wednesday morning, Public Health reported it was monitoring 194 possible positive patients while another 107 possible positives have been released from home isolation.
Gordon also acknowledged he’s been getting more national attention as one of a handful of governors who hasn’t yet issued a formal shelter-in-place order basically locking down the state.
He said that orders already in place that shut down public places and non-essential businesses already do basically the same thing. To that point, the governor said that analytics from Google show that movement in Wyoming to access outdoor recreation areas is down 37% and that workplace visits are down 30%.
“That shows more people are staying home, he said, adding that unless you’re coming to or from Wyoming for a business reason, don’t.
“We are asking folks to delay their visits to Wyoming at this time,” Gordon said.
In particular, the governor said he’s frustrated at the large number of people coming to Wyoming from surrounding states. Colorado, he said, has a shelter-in-place order and that many people from there are driving across the border to get to a less-regulated state and not for business.
Colorado residents especially “seem to be traveling in droves up to Wyoming,” Gordon said. “We’re trying to put a stop to that.”