Directional Drilling Changes Presented In OC; Council Delays Decision To Examine Concerns

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week got their first look at revised modifications to the regulations regarding directional boring by private sector companies for pipes, cables and other utilities, but did not take immediate action on the changes after deciding it needed a few tweaks.

Last spring, Councilman Dennis Dare proposed a temporary moratorium on directional drilling under the resort’s streets by private sector companies after a couple of noteworthy incidents where the town’s infrastructure was damaged by the practice. For example, last January, a company installing natural gas lines struck a city water main near 15th Street, opening a major hole on Philadelphia Avenue that ultimately cost over $130,000 to repair. In another example, a directional boring project opened a sink hole in the area of 93rd Street.

The council last spring approved Dare’s call for a moratorium on directional drilling under the city’s roadways, but the action was rescinded just two weeks later on a promise to rework the town’s existing utility installation agreement (UA) application process and requirements.

For the last several months, city public works and engineering staffers have been working closely with private sector utility companies to draft a revised utility installation agreement that would tighten the regulations and help prevent future infrastructure damage caused by directional boring.

On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council got their first look at the revised application process and stronger permitting requirements. One significant change would require private utility companies to submit engineered drawings of their proposed projects to ensure the city’s infrastructure such as sewer lines and water mains, for example, are not in harm’s way.

“This has been discussed for years,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “We have experienced a series of infrastructure hits. We’ve had holes drilled through sewer lines and water mains large and small. It has only been about five to 10 hits, but they are still hits. The end result is a new permit form and utility permit.”

While most of the private utility companies that do significant work in Ocean City sat in on the discussions that led to the new regulations, some still had issues with certain elements. For example, Comcast Director of Government and Community Affairs Chris Comer said the requirement for engineered drawings prepared by a third party could be an undue administrative burden.

“Our chief concern is the requirement for engineered drawings,” he said. “That would add to the timeline for these projects and it would add to the cost, which would be passed on to the customers. We want to be good partners with the city and we’ve been working with the public works department on some of these issues.”

Delmarva Power Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith agreed the proposed utility installation agreement needed further tweaking.

“I think the town proposal is well done and we’re probably doing 90 percent of this stuff already,” he said. “We do share some similar concerns with the timing and from a cost standpoint. It’s being done for the right reasons. If we had more time to work through the details, that would be beneficial. We’re ready to work with you.”

The council seemed inclined to agree the document as proposed still needed more revision before it was adopted in ordinance or resolution form. For his part, Adkins said waiting an additional couple of weeks would not cause significant issues, but expressed a desire to have it done sooner rather than later.

“I know there are still some concerns,” he said. “Do I have a concern about a delay of two weeks, three weeks? No, but concerns versus desires may be never satisfied.”

Dare also expressed a desire to expedite the changes in the utility installation agreement.

“Well over a year ago, I brought up concerns and asked for a moratorium, which the majority of the council passed,” he said. “We had a hit on our main water line and it created a huge hole and $130,000 in repairs.”

While the private utility company representatives voiced concern about the engineered drawings element of the document, Dare urged it be left in the proposed changes.

“I hope we don’t do away with the engineered drawings,” he said. “This spring, a utility drilled into 139th Street and there were 77 holes in eight blocks. I know because I went out there and counted them. This isn’t anything new.”

Paul Mauser of Ocean City’s engineering department, who helped craft the proposed changes to the utility installation agreement, said the private companies should be held to the same standard as the municipality.

“The town has invested a significant amount of money in our own infrastructure,” he said. “It only makes sense that any other utility company follows the same rules.”

Council President Lloyd Martin said it might be appropriate to further revise the proposed document, but said the changes should be made and adopted quickly.

“I know this has been a long time coming and I think this is a good document,” he said. “We don’t want to have a situation where someone is out of power or out of cable. I think this is something we really need. We have five to 10 events a year where somebody’s home or business is impacted.”

The council agreed to have the public works and engineering departments revisit some of the issues discussed and bring back a revised version for final adoption.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.