Fort Worth Council Member Alarmed by Construction Mishaps

Crews hit natural gas lines in Fort Worth 39 times in July

A Fort Worth city leader is sounding an alarm about the number of incidents involving construction crews hitting underground water and natural gas lines.

"They're trying to save time by not hand-digging," said council member Cary Moon. "But they lose time when the city has to come out and repair those lines and they get billed for those extra costs."

Moon represents parts of north Fort Worth, where companies are digging in neighborhoods to install fiber-optic lines for high-speed internet connections.

Atmos Energy said construction crews hit buried gas lines 39 times in Fort Worth in July.

"When a construction crew accidentally damages a gas line, it can cause serious injury, evacuations and shut down roads or highways," Atmos said in a statement. "This is why we continually educate all of our employees, contractors and the public on the need to call 811 before you dig."

In May, a contractor for AT&T hit a gas line on Los Padres Court in north Fort Worth, forcing firefighters to evacuate the neighborhood.

Gordon Nelson and his wife were home taking a nap at the time.

"I got up and in the bathrooms, the toilets were spouting water all over the place," he said. "Pretty soon we had firemen here telling us to get out now!"

For Nelson, a wedding minister, it was a life or death situation.

"They told us later on we were probably five minutes away from the house blowing up," he said.

AT&T said it had no specific information on the May incident, but issued a general statement.

"Our goal is to minimize the effect on residents as much as possible," the company said. "We instruct our contractors to dial the appropriate 'call before you dig' hotline and follow all the necessary guidelines."

What happened on Los Padres Court may be an extreme case, but Moon said it's happening far too often with a variety of construction projects underway in his district.

"There were several incidents, one right after the other, where crews were not hand digging in areas that required hand digging," he said. "They were using bulldozers."

Construction is booming in that part of north Fort Worth. Entire new neighborhoods are going in.

Accidents happen.

Even when crews do check, sometimes maps of underground lines are wrong. But Moon said many of the accidents can be avoided.

Construction crews can check the exact location of underground lines by calling 811.

Moon also said Texas law doesn't hold contractors and subcontractors to the same standards as the companies that hire them, and he's working with state lawmakers to change that.

For Nelson, the scare is over but he's said he's still working with the contractor's insurance company on settlement. He said the smell of natural gas lingers in his house.

"We hope nobody else has to deal with what we have to," he said.

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