New Belgium pauses pile-driving at plant site

Published on July 20, 2014 in Asheville, News Stories

New Belgium site RS

Quiet descends on neighborhood … temporarily

Silence.

Well, relative silence. The hum and clatter of heavy equipment and truck traffic was still present, but missing was the rhythmic metallic bang of piles and H-bars being driven into the earth down to bedrock level.

Since May, inhabitants of the area surrounding New Belgium’s 17.5-acre tract had been subjected to the pile driving noise “about twice a minute” from shortly after 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and 8:00 on Saturdays until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. One neighbor described the process as being “like Chinese water torture, only really, really loud.”

While neighbors appreciated the respite, they waited for the other shoe to drop. On its Asheville construction webpage, New Belgium wrote, in a post dated June 27, “Thank you for your patience as we continue with pile driving on site to stabilize the foundation for our brewery and Liquid Center on Craven Street in West Asheville. We are moving as efficiently as possible to complete the process.  The construction process is, at times, unpredictable, altering timelines and processes day by day and sometimes even hour by hour.”

On July 7, the company updated that post, saying, “We have a shift in the pile driving schedule from our [previous] update. Thank you for bearing with us during this construction process, which is, at times unpredictable, with timelines and processes shifting day by day and sometimes even hour by hour.”

The update went on to say:

“Good news –Pile driving will stop temporarily. We anticipate this temporary stop happening by the end of the week of July 7, earlier than our original estimated stop date of mid to end of July.

Bad news – While we wish it were complete, pile driving is not yet finished.  We anticipate we will drive about 40 additional piers starting in late summer or early fall. We will keep you posted as to when it will restart and do our best to approximate the duration at that time. Our best estimate, at this time, is that it will take a total of about three additional weeks once the pile driving resumes (making up the remaining weeks we will not be driving during the rest of July).”

Bryan Simpson, public relations spokesman for New Belgium at its headquarters in Ft. Collins, Colorado, told the Tribune on Monday that the respite from the pile driving noise was occasioned by an internal change in task schedule.

“There are a number of things that have to happen in sequence,” Simpson said. Right now we have tanks coming in, and we have to get them installed. We don’t know exactly how long that will take. It’s like every other part of the construction process. All we can say is it will be sometime this fall [before pile driving is resumed].”

Given that the construction schedule is so fluid, why commit to a particular timeline only to have risk disappointment and confusion by having to change it? Simpson was asked.

“We try to maintain complete transparency,” Simpson said. As soon as we know something, we try to let everybody else know it. If it changes, we want them to know that, too.”

The pile driving has been necessary in order to stabilize the soil at the Craven Street site, which is a flood plain literally on the bank of the French Broad River. Additional fill dirt is being moved from the far end of the site to the area nearest the river in order to raise the entire footprint a total of six feet as a flood precaution. The area was completely inundated during the great Asheville Flood of 1916 and was swamped again in the flood of 2004.

The Great New Belgium Civil War

The eight weeks of relentless hammering has left frayed nerves and tempers. A bitter war of words has emerged between those adversely affected by the noise on one hand and pro-New Belgium West Ashevillians – most of whom live some little distance away from the construction area – on the other. The verbal conflict, which has been playing out mostly on social media, has been characterized by anger frustration and worry on the part of the near neighbors and equally angry, sometimes abusive exhortations from their further-away counterparts telling them to suck it up and be grateful for the business and the beer.

Numerous beer enthusiasts from all over, who view the coming of New Belgium as the crowning achievement of “Beer City, USA,” have also left the sidelines and piled on, touting New Belgium’s alleged $175 million investment in its two facilities, the brewery itself and the distribution center now belatedly under construction in Enka.

In point of fact, New Belgium was awarded an $8.5 million incentive package to locate its new facilities in Asheville. Additionally, the city is making some $7.8 million worth of improvements to New Belgium’s Craven Street frontage. The improvements include 3,400 linear feet of street realignment and reconstruction, together with an 84-space “low impact” parking lot, more than 2,000 feet of water main “betterment” and 375 feet of stream restoration and stormwater management improvements, plus curbing, sidewalks, signage and such amenities as a kiosk, benches and a bike repair stand. The initial budgeted cost for the Craven Street improvement package was about $2.4 million.

New Belgium will also receive $364,000 in tax breaks over the next 13 years, or $114,000 a year more than the $250,000 Mayor Esther Manheimer estimated, during her election campaign, that New Belgium will pay in annual property taxes. This brings the city and county’s total investment in New Belgium to approximately $17.7 million. Most of New Belgium’s $175 million investment in its plants will go for construction, equipment, related startup costs and payroll.

The other major issue troubling nearby families is safety, specifically the impact of greatly increased 18-wheeler traffic on already narrow and congested streets, such as Haywood Road. New Belgium has maintained for several months that it is working to establish truck routes to and from the brewery and the distribution center, as well as to and from interstate highways, that will have minimum possible impact on an already overtaxed street network.

The consensus from the brewery proponents appears to be that New Belgium has the situation in hand and the complainers are simply attempting to mask their only real objection, which is the construction noise. Some residents have been advised to get ear plugs, take sleeping pills or move.

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