Ocean City Today

Ocean City rewrites directional boring rules

Tentative guidelines include drawing of work, two-year bond, $1M insurance policy
By Katie Tabeling | Aug 31, 2017

(Sept. 1, 2017) Ocean City officials and representatives of utility companies are collaborating on a new utility installation agreement that would do more to protect the city’s own below-ground infrastructure from drilling and trenching accidents.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins and Construction Manager Paul Mauser on Tuesday laid out for the City Council a stricter permit process that would give officials a better grasp of the work being proposed, while also ensuring that the city will not suffer the financial consequences if something does go wrong.

Among the recommend changes: requiring utility companies to submit a drawing of the scope of the construction work, requiring a $1 million certificate of liability insurance and agreeing to a two-year maintenance bond.

“Over the last few years, we’ve experienced infrastructure hits, whether it is a cavity sewer line going through someone’s front yard, a hole we found drilled in a storm drain pipe a year after we thought it was done or a large water main,” Adkins said during Tuesday’s work session. “We have five to 10 hits a year.”

Discussions on the policy began after a Chesapeake Utilities subcontractor in January bored through the largest water main in Ocean City on Philadelphia Avenue near 16th Street. Properties in a two-block area were without water for 12 hours while city workers fixed the main.

Six months later, Chesapeake Utilities cut Ocean City a check for $135,271.34 to pay for the labor and repair costs. In return, the settlement forever discharged the company from any liability.

In addition to Adkins and Mauser, City Solicitor Guy Ayres, Risk Manager Eric Lagstrom, City Engineer Terry McGean and Construction Manager Woody Vickers also helped develop the proposed regulations. Comments from Comcast, Verizon, Crown Castle, Chesapeake Utilities and Delmarva Power & Light also were considered.

Comcast Community Affairs Director Chris Comer and Delmarva Power Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith voiced concerns with submitting a drawing for every new installation that involves drilling. Both men said the process could push the project back between two to four weeks.

“It will require us to bring in a third-party vendor at $3,000 to complete it, and that could delay us in replacing a bad span of cable and decreasing service,” Comer said. “The cost would also be passed on to the individual customers.”

Public Works officials said that the guidelines would require utility companies to submit drawings when their project calls for drilling into the road, not if a cable were to be fished out from an underground conduit. There is also a provision for emergencies: contractors would be given the power to work on outages and retroactively file a permit within two days.

“The town has invested a lot in the existing infrastructure — the water main, the sewer main and the storm drain — and it all had to be designed prior to being installed in the road,” Mauser said. “It makes sense that any proposed utilities would follow the same route. I feel comfortable in requiring the drawing.”

Key changes include requiring utilities to agree to a $100,000 maintenance bond to ensure that the work is completed. Councilman Wayne Hartman had concerns on the two-year bond requirement.

“If someone was boring and hit the main but scraped the other pipe, and it rots out in three years … and we’ll never know of the damage done until it happens. Is there any case to recover in that instance that we limited to two years?” he asked.

“The bond is to assure the work is completed, it does not ensure that negligence will be paid by the contractor. That’s what the [$1 million] insurance does,” Ayres answered.

Councilman John Gehrig wanted to make it “blatantly clear” on the agreement that one company would be responsible for the construction work. When dealing with Chesapeake Utilities, it first claimed that it had no responsibility on behalf of its trenching contractor before reaching a settlement.

“I don’t want to get into a situation where it’s a ‘pass the buck’ deal. Someone needs to be accountable. One entity is responsible for the work that’s done, no matter how it’s done,” Gehrig said.

After other council recommendations, Adkins said that he would return with an ordinance and resolution to codify the new regulations in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the current permits for utility work will still stand under the current process.

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