Monday, March 16, 2009

Company hits gas line in Tennessee, then calls for permission to dig

BRISTOL, Tenn. - The company responsible for a March 10 natural gas leak in downtown Bristol called in a dig request after the fact, a state official said on March 11.
Even though failing to acquire a permit before digging is a misdemeanor, it remains unclear if any charges will be filed against McCall Commercial Fencing, based in Johnson City.
McCall called the Tennessee Regulatory Agency on March 10, about 30 minutes after one of its workers hit an underground gas line, said Bill Turner, executive director of Tennessee One-Call, the state group tasked with monitoring underground utilities.
"They called in ... 2:30 eastern time," Turner said in a phone interview with a local newspaper. "It was not an emergency call, it was just a normal dig request."
About 2 p.m., a half-hour earlier, the workers had hit the line while drilling fence post holes in a parking lot behind a downtown pottery business.
In Tennessee, failure to call before digging is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 48 hours in jail, a $2,500 fine, or both.
Atmos Energy, the Dallas, Texas,-based company that owns the underground gas line, could bill the fence company for the cost of natural gas lost as well as for capping the leak. "They're still calculating the total cost," Atmos Energy spokesman Joel Amos said.
Bristol Tennessee City Manager Jeff Broughton said the city will not seek to recover the cost of police and fire department manpower needed to clear sections of downtown Tuesday. "We don't typically act on something like that," Broughton said.
The accident sent gas shooting upward into the air and prompted emergency officials to evacuate businesses in the immediate area, re-route traffic and shut down that section of State and Shelby streets. Fire officials called it a very dangerous situation.
It isn't unusual for businesses to call after the fact, Turner said. "It's not legal, but sometimes these contractors roll the dice, do the work and then – if they hit something – call in. The law says you're supposed to give three working days notice."
State agencies have no authority to prosecute, however. "That's up to the local authorities," Turner said. "We're having problems getting localities to prosecute, because they've got murderers and rapists to deal with."
Larry Borum, chief gas pipeline safety officer for the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which sets the rates and service standards of privately owned utilities, said third-party damage is the leading cause of problems with underground utilities nationwide.
"This contractor won't face the TRA, but we're working to get some legislation passed that would change that," Borum said in a phone interview. "Tennessee's damage loss prevention law has little or no enforcement." (Source: David McGee and Michael Owens, Bristol Herald Courier, March 12, 2009)

1 comment:

  1. This is another third party damage classic. It reminds me of Truckers who carry blank bills of lading, then fill them out just before a weighing station, or when being pulled over.