By Timothy Cox
Dominion East Ohio, the area's natural gas service provider, plans to charge municipalities and other third parties who strike the company's gas lines while digging.
That means townships, villages, cities and counties now will be charged if their work crews accidentally hit Dominion's gas lines. Residential customers who plan to dig near the right of way and contractors also will be billed if they strike the gas lines.
The new policy, effective immediately, was handed down in late April. Local governments were notified early last month through letters from Dominion about the new policy, which covers Dominion's 10-county West Central Ohio region, said Peggy Ehora, Dominion's community relations manager.
Ehora was unable to provide an average cost the company incurs when a gas line gets hit, but said the figure varies widely from accident to accident. Factors that influence the cost include whether the line is low- medium- or high-pressure, how large the line is and how long natural gas spews from the rupture before it is repaired, she said.
A worst-case scenario would be like the natural gas line break in Celina in the late 1980s that left some customers without service for a week. In terms of today's dollars, that accident probably would cost millions, Ehora said. Few breaks are that severe, though. The company deals with small hits weekly, especially this time of year when road construction projects are rolling forward, Ehora said.
The original letter, signed by Dominion's Edward L. Brownfield in Lima, says the company "will bill for all costs associated with responding to and repair of its property, including loss of any commodity."
The letter caused some concern in Rockford, where village officials discussed the issue during a recent meeting. The issue mostly affects emergency situations when village officials don't have time to contact the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (OUPS) to help properly locate underground utilities, village utility technician Tom Beahrs said. For example, if village officials must dig to fix an emergency water line break, the town now will be responsible for the integrity of the gas line, too.
"If it was an emergency dig, they kind of let it slide before," Beahrs told council members.
Ehora said the new Dominion policy is aimed at improving safety, not just recouping costs.
"Anybody who is digging anything needs to call OUPS within 48 hours before digging," Ehora said. "It's the biggest safety measure we have."
OUPS isn't infallible, though, as Rockford officials explained. On a recent street construction project, OUPS was contacted and the location of a gas line was marked before digging began, Beahrs said. But the contractor needed to dig directly over the line and ended up striking it, mostly because it was only three inches underground when it was supposed to be two feet deep. Dominion forced the contractor to pay the repair bill, Beahrs said.