As contractors increasingly dig around Charlotte to install super-fast AT&T and Google Fiber broadband networks, claims are piling up for broken water mains, cracked streets and other damage to city property.
Since July 2015, the city of Charlotte has sent contractors more than $688,000 in repair bills, with the number of claims spiking in recent months, according to an Observer analysis of city data. The city made 41 claims in January, the most in the 19 months covered by the analysis.
Contractors working for Google Fiber had the most claims against them, totaling more than $493,000. AT&T and contractor Ansco & Associates, which does work for AT&T, had claims of about $195,000.
To install their high-speed networks, Google Fiber and AT&T are bringing a massive, street-by-street construction project to the city’s neighborhoods. The new systems promise speeds up to 100 times faster than traditional broadband, but the digging has caused damage to the right-of-way areas that cross residents’ yards. It has also cut natural gas lines and cracked city water and sewer lines.
Google Fiber and AT&T are employing dozens of contractors and subcontractors. When they damage city property, the city makes the fixes but sends a bill to the contractor. Typically, the reimbursement comes from the contractor’s insurance company, said Phil Reiger, assistant director of Charlotte’s Department of Transportation.
The figures examined by the Observer apply only to city property, but they shed light on which contractors are involved in the most mishaps and how much it costs to repair those mistakes.
City officials acknowledge the construction can be disruptive, but say the resulting networks will be advantageous in the long run.
“We have to endure some years of construction to really convert a 19th-century, copper-driven telecommunications infrastructure to a 21st-century fiber system,” Reiger said.
So far, contractors have made payments on 64 percent of the claims issued by the city – or some $442,000, data show. Another $246,000 remains uncollected.
Reiger said he expects the city to be paid back, but it takes time as insurance companies process the claims. “Ultimately,” he said, “this stuff gets resolved.”
AT&T spokesman Josh Gelinas said the company is proud of the hard work by its teams to make ultra-fast service available to more than 100,000 customer locations in Charlotte.
“Our goal is to minimize impact on the community or residents before, during and after the network expansion process,” Gelinas said. “If construction-related issues do occur, we work quickly to resolve and restore any impacts from our work.”
Ansco wouldn’t comment.
A Google Fiber spokesperson said the company is undertaking one of the “biggest and most complex infrastructure projects” in city history. “We want to be good neighbors, so we’re doing everything we can to prevent unnecessary disruptions and resolve issues quickly,” the spokesperson said. “Google Fiber and our contractors take all construction-related incidents very seriously.”
The data start with the second half of 2015 because that’s when work began intensifying around Charlotte.
AT&T’s high-speed broadband made its debut in Charlotte in June 2015, but construction continues as the company expands service. Google began signing up customers in the Highland Creek neighborhood in July 2016, but still has much of the city to build out.
Since July 2015, the city has filed for reimbursement from nearly 60 contractors.
The claims are mostly for damage to water and sewer lines, but can also include damaged pavement or sidewalks, Reiger said. The city issues permits for the work to be done, but it doesn’t track how much work each contractor performs. That means it’s not possible to compare a contractor’s claims to its total amount of work.
The subcontractor with the most claims was Firebitt, with a total of 24, for a total of $22,000. A company called UCC had the highest dollar value – one claim for $203,562 after it struck a concrete water main at the intersection of Tuckaseegee and Berryhill Roads in May 2016.
According to a city council-manager memo, UCC was using a horizontal directional drill to install fiber lines when it bored a hole into the 54-inch concrete water main. The main was out of service for more than two weeks while another contractor made repairs, although the city was able to maintain service with minimal impact to customers, according to the memo.
Firebitt did not respond to a request for comment. UCC could not be reached.
The claims have been on the rise as work intensifies around the city. Charlotte filed 41 claims for reimbursement last month, compared to 33 in July 2016 – the previous high. The 41 was nearly three times more than January 2016.
The work of seven contractors has led to at least a dozen claims apiece, records show. That includes Firebitt and S&N Communications, whose 23 claims total $75,600.
As of last month, six contractors – Victory Infrastructure Construction, Wynnco, Davadi Contractors, FTE Networks, Fiberlink and S&N Communications – owe the city more than $12,000 apiece in collections. Representatives of the six contractors either declined to comment or could not be reached.