Gypsum calls Nov. 5 meeting to discuss Comcast project, future underground utility work | VailDaily.com
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Gypsum calls Nov. 5 meeting to discuss Comcast project, future underground utility work

Residents are urged to visit town website to sign up for Zoom session

A traffic cone and caution tape mark a site in Gypsum where Comcast underground drilling was progressing prior to the Sept. 17 explosion.
Daily file photo

This morning, the Gypsum residents who enjoyed a hot shower, brewed a pot of coffee and rinsed off their breakfast dishes were able to complete those tasks because of utility lines located under their feet.

On Sept. 17 a natural gas explosion, related to the installation of underground fiber optic cable for a Comcast broadband expansion, blasted a Gypsum home off its foundation and claimed the life of a local woman. In the accident aftermath, the town called a moratorium on underground utility work. But because of all the community services that are delivered via underground utilities, an indefinite halt on underground excavation is impossible, town officials said.

After six weeks of consultation with utility companies and their contractors who were at work at the explosion site, the town is ready to discuss how underground utility work will resume in Gypsum. On Thursday, Nov. 5, Gypsum officials will host a community Zoom meeting to present its plan.

Accident aftermath


“The Sept. 17 accident was tragic for the entire community of Gypsum and significantly more so for the family that was directly affected,” Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann said. “It’s just an unbearable loss and our hearts go out to the family.”

Rietmann noted that along with an outpouring of support for the family, there have been many questions since the explosion.

“Residents are rightly concerned about the excavation work that is going to be necessary to complete the Comcast project safely,” Rietmann said. “The town shares that concern. That’s why the town immediately put the project on hold for all underground excavation work so that we could take the time to bring all of the project partners together to assess the project’s current operational procedures.”

Specifically, for the past six weeks, the town has been in discussion with Black Hills Energy, Comcast and SEFNCO, the primary underground excavation subcontractor for the Comcast project. Rietmann said those talks have focused on assessing existing safety protocols and enhancing project safety moving forward.

‘Before you dig’

Colorado’s damage prevention law outlines safety procedures for underground construction. In basic terms, overall digging safety is a two-way responsibility with the excavation company on one side and existing utility companies on the other.

“That is the 811 system that is designed to ensure safe excavation processes,” Rietmann said. Residents may recognize this system for its “Call Before You Dig” marketing campaign.

Underground utilities are placed in public rights of way and sometimes these public underground routes cross private property. These rights of way are reserved for shared public purposes and the Comcast fiber network will be located in a public right of way. As it looks to the eventual resumption of underground excavation, Gypsum has developed enhanced safety protocols that dovetail with existing safety regulations.

“We have dissected every major aspect of the project with the aim of adding enhanced protocols and safety across three main areas,” Rietmann said.

Those areas are:

  • The right of way permitting process which includes in-office paperwork and map review
  • The construction process which includes actual field work
  • Communication between the project partners and between project partners and community members

“That is what we will be discussing at this meeting on Nov. 5,” Rietmann said. “We will discuss all of these efforts in much greater detail and all of the key project partners will be represented.”

Sign up for Zoom

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting will be held on Zoom. Anyone interested in attending can register on the town’s website.

“They can also, at this same page, submit questions in advance. They can also submit questions to the Zoom meeting moderator on the session’s chat feature,” Rietmann said.

The town will accept all statements of concern and comments about the future of the Comcast project.

“Questions pertaining to the Sept. 17 accident will not be entertained as the situation remains under investigation,” he said. “We want to share with the community all the work we have undertaken over the last six weeks to add additional layers and more eyes on the project. … We have been working diligently with all these companies. We believe that we have an operational protocol that will make this project safe as it can be.”

Gypsum officials anticipate announcing a date for resumption of the Comcast project at the Nov. 5 meeting.

Rietmann acknowledged that there are Gypsum residents who want a permanent halt for the Comcast project. But there are also residents who have contacted the town to find out when work will resume so partially completed infrastructure, that is currently dotting neighborhoods around the community, will be buried.

Rietmann also noted that the reason why Comcast came to town in the first place — a lack of adequate internet service in the town of Gypsum — remains. There is simply a bigger internet bandwith need than can be addressed by existing wireless and hardwired services and requires new fiber cable installation, he said.

“With a project like this, it is really about serving the current needs of our community and also serving our community of tomorrow,” Rietmann said. “The reason this project is so important is that the world runs on high-speed internet and broadband capability. Communities that are lacking these services — which Gypsum certainly is based on all the years of citizen complaints about local internet service — this is the type of investment that will help our residents, businesses, health care delivery, educational outcomes, and basically all the economic opportunities of the future that depend on high-quality communications.”

To learn more or to sign up for the Nov. 5 meeting, visit townofgypsum.com.


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