A majority of construction-caused natural gas line ruptures in Arlington occur despite excavators calling Miss Utility to locate underground utility systems prior to digging, according to the latest figures.
For fiscal year 2015, Washington Gas, the local gas utility that serves Arlington, reported 48 incidents of damage to its gas distribution system in the county. Of these incidents, 73% were caused by excavators, and, of those, 63% occurred despite the contractors calling Virginia 811, the state’s Miss Utility call center, prior to excavation, the utility said.
As recently as late July, a gas leak was reported on S. Fillmore Street in an Arlington neighborhood with a mixture of single family homes, duplexes and apartment complexes. Four blocks were shut down after the gas began to leak out. Reports suggested a construction crew working on the sidewalks ruptured a 3/4-inch gas line.
Digging damage to other underground utility systems like water mains and fiber optic cables also are common, though statistics on those incidents were not immediately available. Because of the combustibility of natural gas, utilities are required by the state of Virginia to keep records on gas line ruptures.
Employees with Arlington County’s water and utilities division ruptured a water main on Aug. 30 as they were doing excavation work on a residential street to connect a new water pipe to a house undergoing major renovations, causing an eight-hour water outage in the Highland Park-Overlee Knolls neighborhood.
The rupture occurred even though surveyors had come to the 22nd Street N. site prior to the excavation work to spray paint yellow, blue and other colors marking where underground utility systems were located.
The markings showing the location of the underground water main that serves a portion of the neighborhood were not accurate, according to county workers at the scene. The colors indicating the existence of an underground water line appeared to be at least three feet from where the water main was actually located.
Frustrated by the water main rupture, the workers complained that the mapping of underground utility systems is routinely inaccurate. Arlington County uses a contractor, Double H. Locates LLC, for locating and marking of the county’s water mains, sanitary sewers, storm sewers and county fiber optic lines prior to excatvation. For natural gas lines, Washington Gas contracts with UtiliQuest. Double H. Locates did not return calls for comment about the water main rupture.
“Most of the time our markings are accurate, but occasionally there are errors,” Arlington County Chief Support Engineer Dave Hundelt said about the water main damage. “We need more time to investigate this particular instance, but if we hit a utility that was marked, mismarked or unmarked we report it to that utility company and work with them to coordinate repairs to our respective utilities to get customers back in service as soon as possible.”
The science of locating underground utility systems using remote-sensing instruments and maps provided by utilities remains very challenging, even for the best firms, according to Michael Maguire, president of Accurate Infrastructure Data Inc., a Baltimore-based company that provides underground utility investigation, subsurface utility engineering, surveying and mapping services.
These locator companies recognize their work is not foolproof.
“The underground is a complex environment,” Maguire said. “The congestion of underground utilities or the weakness of the conductor that represents the underground utility line can lead to less-than-fully accurate locations. Even under the best of circumstances, with the most diligent practitioners in the field, you can get misled. You can get fooled and end up with a location that’s not a correct depiction of where the utility actually exists. There are those practitioners who are perhaps less careful.”
Excavators are reminded constantly to call Miss Utility before digging. The call center will notify utility companies when excavation work is proposed in the vicinity of their utility system and then each utility has the responsibility to send out surveyors to locate and mark the utilities on the ground.
Arlington County is a member of Virginia 811, a not-for-profit organization created by Virginia’s utilities. Virginia 811 has more than 600 utility members, as large as Verizon and Dominion Virginia Power and as small as water utility systems with only 20 or 30 customers.
The crew was digging in the area of Carlin Springs Road and N. Kensington Street, near the W&OD Trail, when they discovered eight PVC pipes labeled “ammunition.”
The county’s bomb squad investigated the contents of the pipes and didn’t find any hazards, according to Arlington police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The pipes were about four feet long and contained rifle ammunition, Sternbeck said Thursday morning.
Police cordoned off the area around the pipes but there were no traffic diversions.
The find comes just over a year after VDOT contractors found PVC pipes full of guns buried along Patrick Henry Drive, leading to an FBI investigation. The suspect in that case, Cherrydale resident Rodney Gunsauley, pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this year to 40 months in prison.
Sternbeck said the pipes “appear to be related” to the Gunsauley case, but the FBI is continuing to investigate the incident. The Joint Terrorism Task Force was also notified of the investigation, he said.
Gunsauley buried items in multiple locations and likely couldn’t remember all of the locations where he hid his weapons and ammo, Sternbeck said.
As of 9:30 a.m. on Monday, 27,586 Dominion customers were still without power, down from 59,000 at noon on Saturday. The company says it has 4,200 employees and contractors working to restore power to customers in all affected areas, but notes that the huge scale of the damage is making restoration a multi-day process.
“Many poles and cross arms need to be replaced, and other infrastructure needs to be rebuilt,” Dominion said in a press release.
Verizon says it’s working “around the clock” to restore phone, internet and TV service. According to spokesman Harry J. Mitchell:
As with most services in the immediate aftermath of the storms — a situation faced by more than a million residences and businesses throughout the Washington metropolitan area — Verizon has been making every effort to assess damages to its facilities and immediately had crews working to get services back online. However, due to extensive commercial power outages across the entire region, our crews have had to deal with a number of technical and mechanical challenges, in addition to storm damage such as downed poles and trees on our wires.
A power issue in one of our Arlington facilities has created several issues that we’re currently working through, including difficulty some callers are having when dialing 911 in Fairfax and Prince William counties. These counties’ 911 centers now are receiving most calls, and we continue to work diligently to restore full calling to them.
We’re working late hours — often around the clock — and bringing in additional technicians from other parts of our service area to assist in bringing service back as quickly as we possibly can. We appreciate customers’ continued patience as we work to restore services in the wake of one of the worst storms in recent memory.
Comcast, meanwhile, is also facing significant service issues in Arlington in the wake of the storm. Last night many Twitter users reported that their Comcast TV and internet service had gone out, despite it working earlier in the day. According to Comcast spokeswoman Aimee N. Metrick:
At this time it appears most issues are directly related to commercial power outages, and for the vast majority of people, service should be restored as power comes back on to their homes. However, given the severity of the winds and rain that arose from this storm, we are also seeing some more extensive damage caused by falling trees, poles and more that will take longer to repair.
We are working closely with state and local emergency personnel and power companies, and have employees working across the footprint to assess and repair damage in impacted areas once provided clearance that it’s safe to do so. We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding, and will continue to work until service has been restored for all.
With temperatures again expected to climb into the 90s, Arlington County’s libraries and community centers are open today as cooling centers for those without power. Among the centers that will be open are:
- Aurora Hills Community and Senior Center (10am-3pm)
- Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center (8 am-10:30pm)
- Carver Community Center (9am-9pm)
- Charles Drew Community Center (3pm-9pm)
- Fairlington Community Center (8am-9pm)
- Gunston Community Center (2pm-9pm)
- Langston-Brown Community Center (9am-10pm)
- Lee Community Center (9:30am-6pm)
- Madison Community Center (9am-9pm)
- Thomas Jefferson Community Center (6am-10pm)
- Walter Reed Community Center (8am-10pm)
Arlington’s libraries — including Central, Aurora Hills, Glencarlyn, Shirlington, Westover — are scheduled to be open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. today. Yesterday Central Library and Shirlington Branch Library stayed open until 11:00 p.m. to accommodate those who lost power. According to the library blog, some 600 people were crammed into Central Library yesterday afternoon. The fire department also set up a temporary spray park at Central Library to help kids cool off.
The Cherrydale and Columbia Pike libraries are closed today due to lack of power. Also closed is the Lubber Run Community Center, the Long Branch Nature Center, some schools and some summer camps. See a full list of county closures here.
Dogma Bakery in Shirlington (2772 S. Arlington Mill Drive) is remaining open until 9:00 tonight and welcoming pets and owners who need a cool place at which to hang out. Owner Sheila Raebel — whose own house is without power — says she has set up chairs and tables after finding out that other cooling centers weren’t necessarily welcoming pets.
“We had people who were asking about it,” she said. “We found out the county… doesn’t have a place for people with their pets to come when it’s really hot. There are a lot of dogs who are older and a lot of cats who can’t live in a place where it’s 85 degrees”
The store’s Lee Highway location is currently closed due to lack of power.
Flickr pool photo by ddimick
Arlington County is preparing to move forward with utility undergrounding and street improvements along Columbia Pike.
The County Board is expected to approve a contract for work along a section of the Pike at its meeting this Saturday, May 19. The $5.7 million contract would go to Sagres Construction Corporation, and includes work from S. Wakefield Street to Four Mile Run.
Utility underground is the first phase of the project, to be followed by a variety of additions and upgrades. Some of the improvements include new bus shelters, traffic signals, bike racks, ADA compliant ramps, street lights, trees and wider sidewalks. That stretch of Columbia Pike will also be resurfaced with a new layer of asphalt.
County staff has been working to ensure customers have access to all the buildings along the affected stretch of road, as well as to public transportation. Lane closures and traffic disruptions should be expected during construction, but will be during non-rush times. Night work is also possible, which could create some construction noise.
A Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman said assuming the board approves the contract on Saturday, work should begin in July. It will take about 15 months to complete. Project updates will be posted on the county’s website.
The work has been on-going since late last night, after an underground cable was damaged by a contractor. Verizon says work in the intersection could continue through tomorrow morning.
“A contractor performing work to install traffic light control cables bored through one of our underground cables, affecting service for several hundred customers in the area,” said Verizon spokesman Harry J. Mitchell. “We will have to replace the damaged section of cable, and we’re preparing to do that. We hope to have all work done, and service restored to all customers, by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow (Oct. 7).”
Verizon crews are working in two manholes in the middle of the intersection. Water is being pumped out of one of the manholes and onto the street. Traffic is still getting by on each street in the six-point intersection, though some lanes are blocked.
Less than three weeks ago, Verizon phone and internet service was knocked offline for hundreds of customers in the Courthouse/Clarendon area when a contractor accidentally cut through several underground cables.