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Memo: Google Fiber contractor caused $150,000 in water main damage

The Charlotte City Council will vote Monday on a $150,000 payment for repairs made to a water main damaged when a contractor was laying Google Fiber lines.
The Charlotte City Council will vote Monday on a $150,000 payment for repairs made to a water main damaged when a contractor was laying Google Fiber lines. THE KANSAS CITY STAR

The Charlotte City Council will vote Monday on a $150,000 payment for repairs made to a water main damaged while a contractor was laying Google Fiber lines.

Google Fiber is laying over 3,000 miles of fiber-optic cables throughout Charlotte as the technology giant installs its high-speed Internet service. The new service, which will be first available in the Highland Creek neighborhood, has been welcomed by consumers, but the construction has also caused disruptions for some residents.

According to Friday’s council-manager memo, UCC, a subcontractor for Google Fiber, on May 13 was laying fiber lines at the intersection of Tuckaseegee and Berryhill Roads. While drilling underground, the contractor bored a hole into a concrete water main.

Sanders Utility Construction was hired for the repair because of its previous experience in repairing water mains with a large diameter, the memo said. Based on the severity and location of the incident, the city manager waived the usual contract solicitation requirements, according to the memo.

The water main was out of service for more than two weeks, but Charlotte water staff were able to maintain water supply to customers with few impacts, according to the memo.

“We managed the distribution network around the area to ensure that there were no interruptions in supply,” Charlotte Water spokesperson Jennifer Frost said.

Charlotte Water is seeking reimbursement from the Google subcontractor who created the hole, according to the memo.

“As we continue to build our Google Fiber network across Charlotte, we’re constantly working to minimize disruption,” a Google Fiber spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve worked quickly to ensure any damage was repaired and the city is compensated for any associated costs,” he added.

When the accident occurred, the contractor was using a “horizontal directional drill,” according to the memo. This is commonly used in installing underground utilities, said Frost.

In this remote-controlled technique, the contractor starts at one end and runs the drill underground while it carries the fiber line. After laying the line, the drill comes up to the surface on the other side. This is a less impactful way of laying utilities, Frost said.

While laying the fiber, the contractor thought the drill’s path was clear but hit the water main, Frost said. The drill stopped immediately, she said, but was not pulled out so as to keep the pipe plugged.

“This was the biggest damaged line since they started laying Google Fiber,” Frost said, pointing out that the pipe was four-and-a-half-feet in diameter. “An adult could walk through that pipe stooped (over).”

There was “some flowing water” on the road, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police helped redirect traffic, she said.

Siddharth Vodnala: 704-358-5356, @siddharthvod

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