Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes told the council Monday that a subcontractor installing fiber-optic lines in Chestertown is now responsible for breaching eight water lines and one sewer line.
The subcontractor, JCC Contracting, has been trenching fiber optic lines for Talkie Communications since last spring.
The most recent breach occurred Dec. 9 at 115 Elm St.
And on Saturday, Dec. 7, JCC broke a water line at Cedar Street and Greenwood Avenue; the repairs cost the town upwards of $28,000.
Sipes said JCC is not supposed to work on weekends because repairs cost more when things break. Sipes brought in a plumber to do some emergency repairs until he could get a full staff in on Sunday, Dec. 8 to complete the work.
Three utility staff worked 12 hours on Saturday, and five staff worked 15 hours on Sunday, Sipes said.
The town is seeking to recoup the costs from JCC.
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked what responsibility Talkie had for the repairs.
“Talkie is responsible for not damaging existing utilities,” Sipes responded. “Every time JCC hits something, they are under contract to Talkie, but it’s the contractor that is responsible for the repairs.” He said Talkie can leverage the relationship with the JCC to make sure the town is compensated.
Talkie CEO Andrew DeMattia told the Spy Tuesday that JCC must reimburse the town for the repairs or risk losing the business relationship.
“Talkie will not use a vendor that does not follow the law, rules and pay for damages they cause,” DeMattia said. “JCC Contractors has agreed to pay for damages for the water break.”
JCC is also responsible to trench the fiber optic lines at a depth of five feet, to make sure the installations are below water and sewer lines, so they don’t interfere with repairs that may arise.
At Foxley Manor, some fiber optic lines have been installed at a depth of three feet, which is a violation of the agreement between Talkie and the town, Sipes said.
Sipes said he shut down JCC until repairs are made and the installations are properly done at Foxley Manor.
“What we are doing now is going back and checking the depths on a lot of the installations they have done,” Sipes said. “Where they come up short, they will have to redo it.”
Update: Sipes said he secured a commitment from JCC on Tuesday to compensate the town for repairs incurred on Dec. 7 and 8 and make the repairs at 115 Elm St. and Foxley Manor.
Ward 2 Councilman Tom Herz asked if the town could require an inspector onsite to protect water and sewer lines in high density areas–and make sure the contractors reach the required depth of five feet.
Sipes said he has already communicated to Talkie and suggested their contractors have an inspector present to make sure the installation follows the current agreement with the town. Talkie responded that they would inspect JCC’s work before payment can be made.
“I’m eager to put an end to the ‘Wild West’ nature of this installation, ” Herz said. “We need it…but we’ve got a situation where these guys are running roughshod over us and we’re not in a position to respond fast enough, and we don’t have penalties enough to drive a conversation that will be meaningful to them.”
Sipes said the current fine structure for contractors is $500 per day.
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