OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week agreed to lift a temporary moratorium on directional boring for pipes, cables and other utilities under the town’s roadways after gaining assurances private sector companies had contingency plans to pay for any damages.
At the close of last week’s meeting, Councilman Dennis Dare proposed a temporary moratorium on directional drilling under the resort’s streets by private sector utility companies. Dare’s proposal came after a sink hole caused by a directional boring project conducted by a local natural gas company earlier this spring opened up in the area of Artic Avenue near 93rd Street just days after the State Highway Administration (SHA) completed a multi-million dollar repaving project on Coastal Highway from roughly 62nd Street to the Delaware line.
Apparently, the directional boring equipment ruptured a storm drain and it leaked and eroded the earth under the roadway until the sink hole formed. Last Monday, the Council voted 4-3 to impose a temporary moratorium on directional boring and asked Public Works Director Hal Adkins to come in and explain the various positives and negatives involved and the frequency with which similar incidents occur.
Before Adkins’ presentation on Tuesday, however, the council asked for an opinion from Delmarva Power Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith, who happened to be on hand for a presentation on the company’s upcoming plans for the resort area.
“Years ago, everything was hand-dug, but the technological advances have changed the way things are done,” said Smith. “Typically, it’s more expensive to bore, but the flip side is there is less restoration expense. Plus, it’s a lot less intrusive and there is not as much disruption with trenches all over a neighborhood.”
For his part, Adkins said there are instances when damages are caused by boring, but the dots are typically easily connected to the offenders.
“When damage is done, 99 percent of the time measures are taken by the company that caused it, but once in a while we run into a problem with a third-party subcontractor,” he said. “The town has had a permitting process in place for years and almost all of the time we are able to track who caused the problem.”
Adkins explained with thousands and thousands of linear feet of directional boring under the resort’s roadways each year for various utility projects, the damages are very small percentage-wise.
“If you look at the thousands of feet of directional boring, there are going to be some hiccups once in a while,” he said. “We have sewer systems, water systems, storm drains and electrical systems under the road beds and they are going to take a hit once in a while because nobody is perfect despite efforts to identify where everything is. I can say with confidence in the thousands of feet of directional boring each year, we might get three or four hits.”
Essentially, Adkins said the gains outweigh the potential risks and urged the Mayor and Council to reconsider a moratorium on directional boring.
“I hope those numbers dissuade you from a complete prohibition on directional boring and I hope you never do that,” he said. “It’s not a negative, it’s just reality. The increased cost would have to be passed on to the ratepayers.”
Dare said there are often liability issues with companies that come in and do directional boring projects.
“Companies come from out of the area to do these boring projects,” he said. “If they’re working in Washington County, they’re boring through clay or limestone. In Ocean City, if you’re drilling through sand and hit something hard, you have to know there is a problem. In that case, the operator knew he hit something hard because he drilled right through the front side and back side of a pipe. Maybe he was under pressure to get the job done or maybe he was in a hurry to get back to where he lives, but if that is acceptable for this council, then so be it.”
Adkins explained Delmarva Power has a $360,000 renewable bond in place with the town as a contingency in case its boring causes damage, and Eastern Shore Gas has a $200,000 bond in place, although he was not certain of its renewal status. Other companies, such as Verizon and Comcast, for example, do not currently have bonds or lines of credit in place and Adkins admitted his department would have to do some homework to get those in place for other companies.
After more debate, Hartman amended his motion to allow those companies with funding mechanisms in place to continue directional boring. The motion also allowed other companies to get on the list of those allowed to drill once they had a confirmed contingency funding mechanism in place.
“All companies that have a bond in place can drill,” he said. “Those that don’t cannot drill until they do.”
The council voted 5-1, with Dare opposed and Councilman Tony DeLuca absent, to approve the motion and lift the moratorium under the prescribed conditions.