MetroNet responds after contractors hit gas lines in Zionsville neighborhood

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ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (WTHR) — MetroNet Fiber is now responding after contractors hit gas lines in a Zionsville neighborhood.

MetroNet released a statement to Eyewitness News about the gas line ruptures this week:

"Recently, while installing state-of-the-art fiber optic cable to residents and businesses in Zionsville, our contractor encountered an unmarked underground gas line. Work was immediately stopped, and our safety procedures were followed including calls to 911, 811, the local gas utility and MetroNet. In yesterday’s incident, no injuries were reported and there was no damage to or impact to private property."

Neighbors said the digging in Colony Woods is getting dangerous.

"Mistakes are made, errors are made," said Bonnie Madley. She lives with in earshot of one of the cut lines, close enough to hear gas rushing from the open pipe.

That is why state regulators are launching an investigation.

Eyewitness News learned that broken, leaking gas lines are alarmingly common. State records show contractors are cutting up gas lines thousands of times every year.

Damaged gas lines and the fires they start, state regulators say are the leading cause of deaths in injuries in the gas utility industry.

According to the Indiana Utility Regulatory commission 2,867 gas pipe lines were damaged in 2017. That is about 8 every day.

"But not those numbers. Those numbers are extreme," said Madley. "That's shocking. That is concerning."

In addition to the gas line hit Tuesday, one was hit the day before.

Investigations found that two out of three times contractors were at fault. Utilities were responsible a third of the time.

MetroNet also responded to that incident:

"A similar incident involving equipment malfunction also occurred Monday with no damage, no injuries, and all safety procedures being followed."

"MetroNet is committed to ensuring public safety and eliminating disruptive construction practices."

NexGen is overseeing the digging. Wendell Solomon is the president of the company and also said the Monday incident was because of equipment malfunction. As for Tuesday's gas line hit, he says Vectren's line was not marked.

"We didn't know the gas was here so we inadvertently hit it," Solomon said.

This is not the first time MetroNet's had these kinds of problems.

"This company came to Zionsville with the trust that this wasn't going to happen all over again like in Fishers," said neighbor Chad Hahn. "You wonder if they really put the priority towards safety or if they're just trying to ram this through as fast as possible to save a buck."

In 2017, state investigators came down hard on MetroNet Fiber for its role in a series of natural gas line rupture incidents in Fishers and Carmel. They blamed MetroNet and its sub-contractors in 10 of the 20 breaches.

The Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission began looking into the ruptures following complaints from Fishers and Carmel.

Madley wants assurances that workers know what they are doing.

"I want to know that people out here are well trained and understand protocol," Madley said.

Both cities had banned MetroNet from doing any more digging after excavators struck gas lines multiple times.

Metronet was cited for using mechanized equipment within two feet of the marked gas lines and for failure to plan when using hand tools.

The IURC routinely investigates incidents like one in Zionsville. Since 2014, the commission has fined utilities and contractors almost four and a half million dollars.

However, the IURC can't punish or fine MetroNet because the excavation work was technically done by other companies.

The IURC did lay out a series of recommendation for cities to consider before allowing MetroNet to continue installation of fiber optic cable. Those recommendations include documenting that contractors are registered with the secretary of state and making sure they're trained, qualified and insured.

MetroNet promised Zionsville's town council before it started work there, that those issues wouldn't happen in Zionsville.

You can read the IURC's 2017 findings below:

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