By Greg Ellison
Subcontractor broke lines during cable installation
(Sept. 10, 2020) After multiple disruptions of water service in Ocean Pines caused by Comcast subcontractors drilling into underground pipes while laying cable underground, Worcester County officials are looking to recoup the associated repair costs.
Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino said after sending an initial bill several months ago, additional mishaps have driven the cost higher.
“We are going to be holding Comcast responsible for the challenges and the problems that we’ve experienced because of their subcontractors,” he said.
Bertino said the county sent Comcast a bill for $94,000 roughly two months ago to cover the cost of labor, equipment and supplies to make repairs to the water lines.
“Their subcontractors were not following the law with regard to how they should determine where the utilities are,” he said. “As a result, they were cutting into our water lines on a regular basis, sometimes five or six times a day.”
Bertino said in addition to inconveniencing residents, the recurring water service disturbances also taxed Worcester Public Works and Water/Wastewater staff.
“The contract that the Ocean Pines Association signed with Comcast states implicitly that they are to be held accountable for any problems that occur with putting in the new infrastructure,” he said.
Bertino said the matter was first addressed months ago after Assistant Public Works Director John Ross met with Comcast representatives.
“Comcast did a very good job in working towards correcting the problem,” he said.
Subsequent to Ross advising Comcast of the situation, Bertino contacted public works and Assistant Finance Officer Jessica Wilson to confirm the repair costs would not burden Ocean Pines ratepayers.
“They were already on it,” he said.
Since that time, the number of incidents has been reduced, but they do still occur.
Bertino estimates another $10,000 in repairs have been incurred since the bill was sent to Comcast. That does not include the 10-inch water main break from last Monday.
“The county expects Comcast to pay for those breaks, because if they don’t, the ratepayers of Ocean Pines are going to be required to pay for that and that is not fair,” he said.
Water and wastewater are not paid out of the county general fund, with unbudgeted costs falling on the users.
“Water and wastewater are an enterprise fund,” he said. “It is funded by the rates that are paid by the ratepayers.”
Bertino said county officials establish an annual budget for water service based on prior year numbers and approved capital improvements.
Bertino raise the issue at last week’s meeting of the county commissioners.
Bertino said the community’s aggravation was evident during the water service disturbance last Monday.
“My phone was very busy during those five hours from people calling me wanting to know what was going on,” he said. “Our guys did yeoman’s duty in addressing it.”
Although the county has yet to receive payment from Comcast for the earlier incidents, Bertino believes the matter would be resolved satisfactorily.
“I have no reason to think Comcast will not, especially since once this project is done they’re going to be looking for business in Ocean Pines,” he said. “If they don’t make good for this, I don’t think it’s going to leave a good taste in the mouth of the people they’re trying to attract as customers.”