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Consumers: Contractor responsible for Oakwood Road gas line rupture

by David Fleet

May 23, 2012

Brandon Twp.-A ruptured gas line in the township may prove costly to a contractor.

At about noon May 15, Brandon firefighters responded to a natural gas line rupture just off Oakwood Road about one-half mile east of Hadley Road. Workers from Allendale, Michigan-based West Shore Services were installing a tornado warning pole when the 24-inch auger they were using to drill the hole damaged a four-inch natural gas line about six feet underground that paralleled Oakwood Road. The underground gas line had been marked by a contractor for Miss Dig prior to the drilling.

The windows at Oakwood Elementary School, located several hundred yards from the leak, were closed until the line was repaired. The students were released on time. Brandon Fire Chief Dave Kwapis said a light west wind did not put the school at risk. There were no injuries reported.

Debra Dodd, Consumers Energy spokesperson, said within hours of the May15 incident Consumers Damage Prevention was on the site and proceeded with an investigation.

"Given the distance from the school, the children were not in danger," she said. "We'd rather have the natural gas going into the atmosphere rather than possibly traveling underground. Gas can travel through frozen earth."

"It was determined he had not followed the 18 inches buffer zone rule. The contractor is going to be billed for the damages," she said. "Consumers will bill for the time and labor needed to repair the gas line. That close he should have hand dug."

Dodd did not know the exact time needed for the repair.

"We have and will bill the contractor for the gas that escaped during the rupture. Keep in mind if we don't collect, the cost gets passed on to customers," she said. "Both Consumers Energy and DTE contract out their staking. They are well versed in locating underground lines—they have a very high success rate. But, it can happen that the staking is wrong."

Phone calls to West Shores-Services were not returned to The Citizen before press time.

Dodd added that sometimes contractors work nationwide and may not be aware of Michigan laws, in that case they can call 811 in any state.

"We work very closely with contractors and emphasize if they are unsure about hand dig or for any reason call us," she said. "The damages are fairly common but we'd be happy to work with a contractor rather than to have to make repairs."

Senator Mike Nofs (R-19th District) is Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee and has introduced legislation addressing the issue of damages incurred to utility assets by outside sources.

"The bill takes the best practices of working with contractors and utilities agreed on by the industry," said Greg Moore, legislative director for Nofs. "The industry spent more than four years on the issue. They brought us the best methods in dealing with utilities—and we are going to make it law. Fines and penalties are included in the legislation. The bill stems from those cases, like just happened in Brandon, everything was done right, the line was marked—the contractor ignored it. Those markings are there to keep people safe. Thank God no one was injured. When accidents occur, the damages can be catastrophic. Breaking a water main is one thing, but gas or electric is very serious."

Moore said the bills could be voted upon in the next three weeks.