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Monday, July 6,2009

It sucks

Another business feels the effects of Lansing's Combined Sewer Overflow project

by Drew Winter
Daniel Besina had to raise his voice over the bangs and clangs of construction in order to be heard. He was trying to explain to Lansing city officials that the Combined Sewer Overflow project construction going on in front of his deli, Handy’s Market, is gutting the business.

Besina said that Handy’s has done 30 to 50 percent less business on a daily basis recently. Customers can’t get to his business because the streets all around are torn up, he explained to Chad Gamble, director of the Lansing Department of Public Service, City Assessor Maria Irish and several members of Motion Marketing and Media, which is doing public relations for the CSO project. (Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero had promised to come, too, but “something came up,” Gamble said repeatedly.)

Handy’ is surrounded by dirt streets, road blocks and, at one point, a 25 foot crater.

The thing is, Besina was told, the CSO project — which fixes city sewers so they don’t leak sludge into our waterways — is federally mandated and he was warned back in 2007 that it would be coming. The bottom line: it sucks.

“I’m certainly not going to argue with you that it sucks — it does,” Gamble said.

Further, there’s not much the city can do for Besina, 34, or any other business that struggles with road closures, monstrous construction vehicles and whatever other horrors come with the CSO. Handy’s is just a small grocery store and deli located at the intersection of Willow and Chestnut streets that specializes in Latin food and spices. Besina came to own it in December 2007 — six months later, he said, he was informed of the CSO project.

“The city can’t say, ‘Here’s a check for lost business,’” Gamble said.

But, Gamble and the other officials did offer an ice cream party and — maybe — slightly less property taxes. The CSO project typically wraps up with an ice cream social hosted by the city, which Gamble suggested be held outside Handy’s to bring back business.

Irish said that if Besina could submit financial records to the city that show a significant decline relative to other similar businesses, he might be taxed slightly less in 2010.

But, Besina was not satisfied. He thinks his customer base simply won’t return.

“This is a once in a 75 year project,” Gamble told Besina. “You got another 75 years.”

“I won’t be here that long,” Besina replied.

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