VAIL — After two major gas leaks caused by construction drilling this month, the town of Vail will require the company that caused the line breaks to follow strict guidelines for the remainder of the project.
The town ordered Slick Underground Inc., of Elbert, to halt work Tuesday after crews caused two gas-line breaks in two separate places over the course of five days. The company, a subcontractor of Aspen Wireless, was working on a new Wi-Fi and cell phone network system that required installing fiber optic cables throughout the town.
The first leak happened on Aug. 6 near Lionshead Village and the second happened on Aug. 11 near Matterhorn Circle in a residential area. As a result, hundreds of guests, employees and residents in the two neighborhoods were evacuated, and crews from Vail Fire & Emergency Services, Vail Police, Vail Public Works, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Red Cross, Xcel Energy and Eagle River Water & Sanitation District all were on scene.
The company was told it could resume excavation provided they follow new protocol that requires them to present their construction plans to the town and utility company representatives at weekly meetings for the remainder of the project.
Town of Vail Construction Area Coordinator Leonard Sandoval said that traditionally the town hasn’t had too much construction through the summer months, and therefore hasn’t been holding weekly construction meetings.
“We’re starting the meetings back up and one of the requirements for the contractor is to communicate with the utilities and present their plans for the company’s review. That way we can pinpoint all the underground utilities and see if there’s anything tricky going on,” Sandoval said.
Also, the new guidelines require a representative from Xcel Energy or SiteWise Corporation to be on site while the contractor is boring near any gas line.
“We want to give it one more layer of oversight,” said Mike Vaughan, Vail fire marshal. “If they all need to be out there shoulder-to-shoulder to discuss in order to do it right, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The fiber-optic project still involves about 5,000 feet of drilling, mostly in the West Vail area and the frontage roads. To date, Slick Underground has already completed about 40,000 feet of drilling prior to the gas leaks.
Sandoval said the gas-line breaks are still under investigation but that leaks like those in early August can happen several ways — either the company hasn’t done the necessary homework to find out where the gas lines are, or they can hit older lines that aren’t indicated on current maps.
At the time of the line breaks, crews were drilling about 4 to 5 feet deep. The lines they hit were current, active pipelines.
For now, the new guidelines only apply to the remainder of the fiber-optic installation project, but Vaughan said he’d like to see the rules apply to future projects as well.
“We’re holding them more accountable for the work, and it’s going to take a little longer, but we want it done safely,” Vaughan said. “I’d like us to visit doing this in perpetuity. That way anyone else who does these underground projects knows what we expect and that we’re watching.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.