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Longboat Key Monday, Jul. 29, 2019 4 months ago

Town, contractors double down on gas line locations

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July 24 incident prompted closure of Gulf of Mexico Drive for hours.
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

A gas-line locating expert from TECO Peoples Gas will work directly with the Wilco Electircal team on Longboat Key’s underground utilities project, lending expertise and on-site knowledge to avoid another dangerous break, such as the one that shut down Gulf of Mexico Drive for hours last week.

At a Friday meeting that included Porter, the town's project manager James Linkogle, TECO representatives and Wilco Electrical's Juan Martinez, officials discussed the cause of the latest gas line break and shutdown of the island’s only north-south thoroughfare. Since late June, three different contractors have struck gas lines in three areas of the island along GMD. 

On July 24, three days into the town’s $49.1-million, three-and-a-half-year undertaking, a 2-inch gas line was hit near the Chart House restaurant. The highway was closed from around 5:30 p.m. to after 9 p.m.

The view from Traffic on the New Pass Bridge on July 24. Photos by Sten Spinella.

Officials said the area had been properly marked, and work crews had initially discovered a 3/4-inch line in the area as expected. They weren’t aware of the larger line, buried at another depth.

"Once you find the line you think, 'We're good, we found it,'" Mark Porter, the project manager for CDM Smith, the company working with the town on the utilities endeavor, said.  "TECO should have maybe identified [the second line]. 'Hey, we got two lines here, not one.'"

TECO and CDM Smith continue to investigate.

The view of traffic from behind the police barrier on July 24.

The locating expert who will work with the underground boring team has more than a decade of experience on local barrier islands, officials said. Likewise, TECO teams will have on-hand equipment to quickly clamp off any new breaks, and a valve is being installed near Bay Isles Parkway to help isolate gas flow if needed.

This was 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. A break in a water main earlier this year interrupted service for a brief time and resulted in a precautionary boil-water alert for some residents.

"This is obviously frustrating to our residents and also to the staff." – Paul Dezzi

In both previous gas line cases, on June 27 and July 10, Gulf of Mexico Drive was closed while TECO crews repaired the breaks with help from firefighters. In the first instance, traffic was rerouted through Bay Isles. But in the last two, no such detours were possible. Traffic sat idle for hours, once on the north side of the island, once on the south.

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said such breaks are precarious, and caution is always the rule in dealing with them.

Emergency services respond to the scene of Longboat’s latest gas line break.

During the meeting on July 26, town project manager James Linkogle, TECO and contractors also discussed protocol if a line is hit.

“We just felt like last time it took a little longer than it should have to reopen the road,” Porter said.

Having someone onsite to clamp the gas line quickly is important for keeping roads open, Linkogle said, which is why TECO crews will be equipped to act promptly.

Dezzi said he understands why people would want the roads to open sooner, but that it’s a safety issue, and firefighters need to make sure the area is safe before allowing people through.

Sten Spinella is a Town Hall Reporter for the Longboat Observer. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and his master's degree from the University of Missouri. 

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