Comcast work remains on hold as Eagle, Gypsum await report on Sept. 17 explosion
In the aftermath of accident that claimed Gypsum woman's life, communities and Comcast stress enhanced safety efforts
GYPSUM — Conduit tubes jutting out from the ground, draped in caution tape and marked by traffic cones, are what denote the Comcast broadband project in Gypsum nearly a month after a natural gas explosion leveled a home in the community and claimed the life of a local woman.
Gypsum and Eagle representatives say the schedule remains uncertain for when the Comcast underground directional drilling will resume. But that uncertainty doesn’t extend to the future of the project itself.
“This project remains critically important to the community’s future and we remain focused, intently on making sure the remainder of the work is completed safely,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann.
“As a community, if you look at how critical fiber and internet access is in our daily life, and for our emergency communications, we are 100% dependent on broadband,” said Eagle Town Manager Brandy Reitter. “Fast, reliable broadband is at the core of how we do business in our society.”
But the Sept. 17 explosion brought underground utility safety practices into sharper focus for both communities. That’s why Eagle and Gypsum halted all underground directional drilling in the wake of the accident.
“All underground drilling in Gypsum is still on hold,” Rietmann said. He noted that halt will remain in place until the town has developed an enhanced safety program with the participation of the companies who have underground utilities in place in Gypsum.
“Then we will organize a public meeting to share information about the conditions under which the project will resume,” Rietmann said.
‘People are pretty nervous‘
Reitter said the town of Eagle has lifted its underground directional drilling moratorium.
“We are applying additional safety standards so we can try to prevent accidents and assure the community we are taking additional safety steps,” she said. “People are pretty nervous. We are getting quite a few inquiries, voicing concerns about what the town is doing to ensure safety.”
In response, Eagle has shared information about its safety measures on the town website. But as it looks to the future, Reitter noted that halting underground utility drilling isn’t a practical long-term option. She explained that the Comcast project is just one example of underground utility lines. CenturyLink, Holy Cross Energy, Black Hills Natural Gas along with the town’s own water and wastewater lines lay in underground rights-of-way. That’s why accurate utility locations and markings are so critical when underground directional drilling launches.
“Whenever there are tragedies of this kind, with an outcome like this, the question of safety comes up. I think that it is a very fair question,” said Rietmann. “We weren’t inattentive to safety issues before the accident. I don’t think it would be fair or reasonable to think that safety was not taken seriously by any of the entities involved.”
Rietmann said the town is meeting representatives from Comcast, its construction subcontractors and Black Hills Energy to develop a forward-facing construction plan to ensure safety for the remainder of the project.
“Comcast’s first priority is the public’s safety,” said Leslie Oliver, director of media and external communications for Comcast “We value the ongoing partnership and discussions with the town of Gypsum and the construction teams to ensure this project to extend connectivity services to the community, moves forward in a responsible, safe and efficient manner.”
According to investigator Aaron Veldheer of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the case is still active. “We are waiting for all of the reports from all of the agencies from around the state to come in,” he said. Specifically, reports from the Eagle County Coroner and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control have not yet been submitted.
“It’s the goal of all of us to have this case completed as soon as possible,” Veldheer said.
As the communities and companies affected by last month’s events wait for that report, they want to assure the public they are doing all they can to prevent another tragedy.
“The town of Eagle’s No. 1 priority is safety. We will not compromise on safety standards,” said Reitter.
“We want everyone to be confident that the town and all these agencies took the time to assess the work plan,” Rietmann said. “When that plan is complete it is our intention to go straight to the public and share all that information.”
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