Photo: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal Archives
By Toni Galli, WKOW, July 10, 2020
SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) – The company found to have improperly done underground excavation before a deadly explosion in Sun Prairie in 2018 has yet to pay a state-ordered fine of $25,000.
“Two years later, they’ve yet to pay that fine,” says Executive Director Robb Kahl of Construction Business Group of Michigan-based, VC Tech. Kahl’s industry trade group is pushing for stricter enforcement and more regulation in connection to violations in digging projects.
Authorities say VC Tech failed to properly obtain a ticket from Diggers Hotline to bore underground, yet did directional drilling in downtown Sun Prairie and ruptured a natural gas line. A subsequent explosion killed responding Sun Prairie Fire Captain Cory Barr and injured others.
In August 2019, Wisconsin Public Service Commissioners fined VC Tech $25,000 for relying on an elapsed permission to excavate from Diggers Hotline and failing to obtain a necessary ticket from the safety organization. Commissioners also required the company’s leadership to take an educational course. Officials say that requirements have also been ignored.
State officials say they’re still pursuing the fine from the firm.
“The PSC has fully exercised the authority provided to us under state law to gain compliance from VC Tech, Inc.,” Public Service Commission Spokesperson Matthew Sweeney says. “We’ve referred the matter to other state agencies to facilitate collection.”
VC Tech attorney John Coleman has yet to respond to a request for comment from 27 News on the company’s intentions with the amount due the state of Wisconsin.
While PSC officials have the power to cite violators of rules relating to excavation, Kahl says there’s no teeth to sanctions. “They’re not consequential,” he says. “They’re not significant enough.”
Kahl’s group is also calling for state lawmakers to follow neighboring states by prioritizing the response to excavation mistakes.
“Unlike…Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, to name a few, we do not require utility strikes to be reported or investigated and that’s a problem,” Kahl says.
Kahl concedes the more than four thousand utility strikes in Wisconsin since 2018 typically involve no injury or collateral damage. But he says digging projects for utility, fiber optic, and water lines are only increasing.
“And once you start actually regulating an industry, word gets around pretty quick,” Kahl says. “The people who make it their business to cut corners realize they could get themselves in trouble.”
PSC officials say Wisconsin ranked third nationally in the most recent safety data in connection to incidents per underground infrastructure miles.