The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 20th

Parties Eschew Blame for Fire

Thalle Construction says gas lines were poorly marked, but PSNC Energy says Thalle should have verified depth.

An Orange Water and Sewer Authority construction project at the intersection of East Franklin Street and Estes Drive was under way when a backhoe owned by Thalle Construction hit a natural gas main pipe at 8:51 p.m., sparking the blaze.

Chris Haverstrom, a representative of Thalle Construction, said the gas company identified the location of gas lines prior to construction but that the lines were marked as deeper than they actually were.

But representatives from PSNC Energy, a Scana Company that maintains the gas lines, say Thalle Construction is at fault for not determining the depths themselves.

Haverstrom said PSNC Energy had marked the lines as between 20 inches and 27 inches deep. An OWASA press release after the incident stated that the damaged gas line was 18 inches below the surface.

"Workers were peeling back the pavement, and the lines were basically right at the bottom of the pavement," Haverstrom said.

OWASA was contracting the $1.5 million construction project, which is a part of its Capital Improvement Plan. OWASA officials issued a stop work order Thursday, halting the project spanning 5,000 feet of East Franklin Street.

Alexa Steverson, a spokeswoman for PSNC Energy, said there is no law requiring a specific depth for the lines. But Steverson said PSNC Energy typically tries to install the lines at least 36 inches deep.

"There is no depth requirement with respect to locating law because of grading and elevation," Steverson said. "At the time the line is installed, it doesn't mean that depth is where the line will be later."

Haverstrom said Thalle Construction officials met with PSNC after the incident to make sure a blaze would not happen again.

"There were safety procedures in place, but because of the incident, additional precautions will be made," he said. "One thing that was done immediately was the gas company lowered that line to 30 inches (below ground)."

Steverson said it is the responsibility of the digging party to determine the location of the lines before they dig.

Steverson said PSNC provides the line marking information to N.C. One-Call, a centralized locating service but that it is the responsibility of the digging party to contact One-Call within 48 hours of the dig to receive this information.

Haverstrom said this incident was an isolated one and will not affect other company projects.

He also said construction could resume within the next couple of days, but there is no specific date set.

"The project will proceed with additional safety precautions and increased communications with the gas company."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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