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The annual review of state requirements for cities to locate underground utilities poses new challenges.
(Published Jul 11, 2012)
City officials responsible for right-of-way management and the protection of critical city utility services have raised concerns that the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS) could expand their responsibility for damaged gas lines.
MNOPS is proposing to make local government responsible to reduce the risks of leaks in gas lines that are damaged as a result of excavation methods used or failures of private excavating firms to take proper precautionary methods when engaged in construction activities.
The agenda for the upcoming meeting that MNOPS announced last week indicates that the agency supports adding requirements for cities to provide “quality level data” when public underground facilities such as municipal water, storm and sanitary sewer, gas or electric utilities, and/or public broadband or telecommunications connections are within an area of excavation.
MNOPS has requested comments on these and a number of other possible changes to current locating requirements, as detailed in Minnesota Statutes 216D and Minnesota Rule 7560, which often fall to cities to conduct. One proposal that has previously raised considerable discussion in 2011-2012 is whether hand tools should be included in the definition of excavation.
In addition, proposed new language that would be included in changes to MNOPS rules indicates that the agency also intends to impose higher penalties for failure by cities and other local government jurisdictions to require cities to comply with mandatory reporting of all underground facility damages when locating such underground public facilities.
Cities as facility owners are already required to provide “utility quality level data” (Minnesota Statutes, section 216D.01, subdivision 12) ranging from the most detailed and reliable to the least accurate or reliable. But MNOPS has suggested that additional language may be needed to address circumstances that will impact existing underground utilities for which reliable construction records may not exist.
The MNOPS 2012 Annual Minnesota Statute 216D Review meeting is scheduled to be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety offices in downtown St. Paul.
Jeff Murray, the MNOPS Principal Engineer, has requested interested parties to submit suggestions and comments either prior to or at the upcoming review on Aug. 8. Murray has also requested that those planning to attend to inform him prior to the meeting at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also an option to listen to the meeting via conference call.
If your city plans to have an official attend or listen to the meeting, please contact Ann Higgins (see right).
In a related news item, in a June 27 Finance & Commerce article, CenterPoint Energy indicated that it intends to pursue damages as a result of “sharp increases” in the number of natural gas lines that have been damaged thus far this year due to excavating and hand-digging operations.
The public gas utility reports that the number of gas line damage incidents has increased by 51 percent. Further, the report indicates that the leading cause of damage is hand-digging that current rules require excavators to perform within two feet of such facilities in order to protect those utilities prior to further construction activities at the site.
The League has established a workgroup comprised of city utility managers, water utility superintendents, public works officials, and engineers to address such regulatory issues raised by MNOPS or other stakeholders that may raise concerns and threaten to raise city liability for providing precise locations in order to address problems that have primarily occurred due to how excavators have addressed and complied with regulations requiring them to expose and protect natural gas lines (as well as other city utilities installed at various locations and depth within the area where excavation activities are to take place).
A meeting of the workgroup will be scheduled prior to the MNOPS Annual M.S. 216D Review session. If your city is interested in participating, please contact Ann Higgins (see right).
Contact Ann Higgins
(651) 281-1257 or (800) 925-1122