Town officials plan to meet Friday, July 26, to discuss third closure of Gulf of Mexico Drive since late June.
Gulf of Mexico Drive was closed for more than three hours on Wednesday evening after the third gas line break in less than a month.
First responders were dispatched to the south end of the island around 5:37 p.m. Wednesday night and quickly closed the two-lane highway because of the danger posed by leaking natural gas. Town officials announced on social media around 9:15 p.m. that the road had reopened.
Units from Longboat Key, Sarasota County and Manatee County responded to the call in the 300 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, adjacent to where town contractors had broken ground two days earlier on a three-plus-year, $49-million project to bury the town's overhead power and communications cables.
“There was an issue with the gas-utility locate,” said Mark Porter, the project manager for CDM Smith, the company working with the town on the utilities endeavor. “We are planning to meet [Thursday] and make sure the issue is addressed.”
This is the third gas line break connected to underground utility work since late June, though the two previous incidents were attributed to two different private contractors not in the town’s employ.
In both previous cases, on June 27 and July 10, Gulf of Mexico Drive was likewise closed while TECO Peoples Gas crews repaired the breaks with help from firefighters.
In an email to Town Commissioners, Town Manager Tom Harmer passed along a message from Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, who wrote the contractor working with the town struck a gas line in an area that did not appear to be marked as a hazard.
"This is obviously frustrating to our residents and also to the staff,'' Harmer relayed from Dezzi.
Harmer added: "I will be meeting with the project team on the results of their review and will share their actions to address going forward."
Dezzi said the frequency of gas line breaks in Longboat is much higher than in years past. More often than not, line breaks used to occur because of individual work on residential properties. That has not been the case this summer due to all the excavation work on Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Applicable emergency services officials are planning a meeting for August 1 to discuss the town's response to gas line breaks. One of the issues Dezzi is considering is how to warn drivers the road is closed off and they have to turn around if they aren't willing to wait (if that is indeed the case and there isn't a detour).