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Lapse in digging procedure leads to York County phone outage

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A miscommunication between utilities and contractors led to a worker cutting a phone line serving customers in the area of West Manchester Township, York County.

The incident happened last Thursday afternoon during work by L&N Zimmerman Excavation, which was acting as a subcontractor for Kinsley Construction. Kinsley was hired by Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania to replace natural gas lines along Loucks Road between Route 30 and Kenneth Road

Workers for the Heidelberg Township-based L&N Zimmerman were excavating when they struck an unmarked Verizon North cable, cutting off phone and Internet access for an untold number of customers. Verizon North is the business unit within Verizon serving former GTE customers in Pennsylvania.

According to a statement by Verizon, phone and internet service is being restored in a "rolling fashion" as workers attempt to repair the cable. According to the telecom giant, the incident damaged a cable consisting of 5,100 pairs of copper cables which must be reconnected by hand.

As late as Tuesday, calls to Verizon phone customers in the region were met with an automated recording stating the network was under repairs.

Project owners, contractors, and utilities typically attempt to avoid such incidents through a procedure designed by a 44-year-old state law.

Act 287 of 1974, otherwise known as the Underground Utility Line Protection Act, requires contractors to give three days notice before doing any excavation. That notice is given to PA One Call, a nonprofit that facilitates communication between utilities and contractors. The organization works with over 3,500 utilities statewide and handled over 816,000 calls in 2016.

Once it receives plans from contractors, PA One Call gives two days notice to utilities in the region to mark their underground lines so contractors can avoid hitting them while digging.

PA One Call was notified by Zimmerman on Jan. 9 for both West Manchester Township and the city of York where the work was being done. According to PA One Call, Verizon responded “No Conflict” to the notice, indicating none of its lines would interfere with the work being done by Zimmerman.

Before excavating, Zimmerman used a vacuum excavator to remove dirt and verify the locations of lines it was notified about. Unaware of the Verizon line, Zimmerman did not check for the cable and struck it with a horizontal drill.

According to Lavern Zimmerman, site manager for the excavator's work on the project, such accidents are rare.

“It doesn’t happen often with most utility companies. However, Verizon does seem to have an issue with marking their lines. It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last until they get their process together and get it done correctly,” said Zimmerman.

Work at the site is delayed at least a week, said Zimmerman, while workers attempt to uncover the newly discovered line.

Contractors may not bill utilities for time lost due to an incident resulting from an unmarked line, but they are not liable for damages caused if the line is found to be unmarked by its owner.

Under Act 287, incidents such as these are reported to the Department of Labor and Industry, which conducts an investigation to determine the cause of the miscommunication.

If a line is found to be marked correctly by the Department, the utility may bill the contractor for the damages.

Verizon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter

Gillian Branstetter covers health care news for the Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at gbranstetter@cpbj.com.

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