John Ross

Worcester County Assistant Public Works Director John Ross 

(Sept. 4, 2020) Water service in Ocean Pines took a momentary lapse on Monday after contractors installing Comcast service lines inadvertently stuck a 10-inch main, with Worcester County Public Works crews able to remedy the emergency in a matter of hours.

Assistant Public Works Director John Ross said on Tuesday the temporary loss of service lasted from roughly 3-7 p.m.

“One of their contractors drilled through a 10-inch water line yesterday,” he said. “That caused us lots of problems because they picked one of the largest water mains in Ocean Pines.”

Ross said the contractors followed procedure by contacting Miss Utility prior to digging.

“If they install anything below ground they have to call and we have to go out and mark where our water and sewer lines are,” he said. “It was marked where it was suppose to be and they thought it was deeper than what it actually was.”

Ross said the ongoing Comcast installation in Ocean Pines involves an extensive amount of underground installation that can be problematic. 

“Occasionally they’re going to hit something but I just really wish they wouldn’t have hit something like that,” he said. “It was carelessness on the part of the contractor there’s no two ways about it.”

The situation this week mirrors what was a larger issue several months ago.

“Two or three months ago we were really having major problems and they were hitting our lines all over the place,” he said. “We called them in and had a come to Jesus meeting.”

The number of miscues improved significantly after that point, Ross said.

“Since then they have been doing a lot better,” he said. “We’ve really had a big improvement but then this happened yesterday.”

What made the incident on Monday more challenging was the location of the breach.

“Previously we were up in the north part of Ocean Pines, which is pretty much where all the water supply is and the wells are located,” he said. “Most of the south side wasn’t disturbed when that happened because we were able to cut it off and leave it on the north side.”

As work has progressed southward the challenges are different.

“They hit water lines occasionally but it’s usually not as big of a problem and we get them repaired,” he said. “Being a 10-inch water line caused a lot of problems.”

The volume of water involved made repair work take longer than usual.

“We had a struggle cutting the water off because some of these valves are old,” he said. “The bottom line is they shouldn’t have hit it in the first place.”

Ross said after putting yesterday’s mishap in the rear view mirror, the hope is that further mistakes are avoided.

“I don’t want to hop back where we were three months ago because that was horrible and it was two or three times a week,” he said. “Now they weren’t 10 inch lines, they might have been 8, 6 or 4 inches, but they were far more frequent then they should have been.”

Ross said after being alerted to the water main break about 3 p.m. county crews had the matter resolved by roughly 7 p.m.

“They drilled a nice round hole in it, which was good because they could have cracked the entire pipe,” he said.

Addressing the fumble was less complicated due to the nature of the damage.

“It was easy for us to out clamp overtop of it and seal it up,” he said.

Prior to that step the real challenge was reducing the flow of water contained in the pipe.

“There’s just an awful lot of water in a 10-inch line,” he said. “When our guys are in the hole trying to patch it and water is shooting out it’s not a pleasant place to be.”

Ross said the county is also required to contact Miss Utility prior to breaking ground.

“Anytime we have to go out and dig we call Miss Utility,” he said. “In an emergency hopefully they put us high up on the priority list but we still have to abide by the law as well.”

Ross said Comcast contractors should have been more diligent in their preparation prior to digging.

“There’s a lot more they could have done and technically were required to do,” he said. “I thought we had the problem corrected and now we have to have a refresher course again.”

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