Ocean City’s Directional Boring Revisions Advance

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City and Council got a second look at revised regulations regarding directional boring under city roadways for pipes, cables and other utilities proposed to ensure the increasingly popular technique does not damage public and private infrastructure.

Last spring, City Councilman Dennis Dare called for a temporary moratorium on directional drilling, an technique used frequently by utility companies to install pipes, cables, fiber optics and other utilities under roadways, after a couple of incidents during which city infrastructure such as water mains and sewer lines were damaged. Generally speaking, directional boring is a more efficient, cost effective way to install utilities than the traditional method of cutting open trenches in the roadways.

However, because the directional boring goes under the roadway largely unseen, there have been instances during which city infrastructure and even water lines, electric lines and even television cables have been damaged or destroyed by the process. In one extreme example last winter, a gas company drilling under Philadelphia Avenue struck a city water main near 15th Street, opening a large hole and creating over $130,000 in damages.

In another example, a directional boring project opened a sink hole in the area of 93rd Street. Those examples are the most significant recently, but with so many utilities putting natural gas lines, electric lines, cable and fiber optic lines under the city’s roadways, there has been an increase in the number of infrastructure “hits” in recent years including some that disrupt service to private residences and businesses.

As a result, Public Works officials went back to the drawing board to tweak the regulations regarding private sector utility companies utilizing the directional boring technique on city roadways. After an initial review in August, the Mayor and Council instructed staff to go back and make additional revisions. Public Works Director Hal Adkins presented the final proposed recommendations to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.

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“We feel we have a very sound, solid document moving forward,” he said. “The current permit fee structure predates my time here going back over 30 years at just $1 per square foot. We want to make sure we have cost recovery, so we’re recommending a flat fee for a permit of $100.”

Dare questioned the flat fee of $100, suggesting the permit fee should reflect the scope of a particular project.

“Frankly, I’m a little surprised with the $100 flat fee,” he said. “If one person comes in and wants to do one block, the fee is $100. If another person comes in a wants to do 10 blocks, the fee is the same $100.”

Dare also questioned the apparent lack of requirements for formal traffic control plans for some of the larger directional boring projects. Naturally, some projects are large than others and on streets with more traffic than others. Dare wanted to ensure the private companies doing directional boring projects had approved traffic control plans in place, especially for projects that required lane closures, for example.

“The way this reads, if there is not a lane closure, they don’t have to have it,” he said. “I’m thinking about some of the city streets like St. Louis Avenue, Baltimore Avenue, 94th Street bayside and 142nd Street bayside that are major arteries. We have arteries that should require traffic control plans. We want to make sure we don’t have wording in here that doesn’t require that.”

Public Works Department engineer Paul Mauser, who helped author the revised regulations regarding directional boring, said the document as presented covered the need for traffic control plans.

“Historically, contractors have not had to submit traffic control plans unless there are lane closures,” he said. “I think that’s mostly because it’s largely offseason work and there are very minor traffic issues.”

However, Dare remained adamant about having traffic control plans required, at least for some of the larger projects on major arteries.

“If they don’t have to submit a plan, I understand that,” he said. “I just don’t want to relieve them of their responsibility to protect not only themselves but the public. I don’t want a situation where they don’t have anything, not even a traffic vest, let alone a traffic control plan.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed traffic control plans should be required on a case-by-case basis depending on the location and scope of a project, if only to ensure the contractors are taking the necessary precautions.

“You’re saying if it’s not spelled out specifically, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “You want to make sure it does happen correctly.”

Council President Lloyd Martin pointed out an example of when a traffic control plan should have been in place.

“We had a situation on 139th Street where they closed a lane and there was barely even a cone,” he said. “I think if they’re closing a lane, there should be traffic control plan submitted.”

After considerable debate, the council unanimously approved the revised regulations and moved them forward for first reading in ordinance form next Monday with the requested changes.

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.