Emails reveal Google Fiber raised safety concerns over markings - WSMV News 4

Emails reveal Google Fiber raised safety concerns over markings policy

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Contractors with Google Fiber installing fiber lines in December 2015. (WSMV) Contractors with Google Fiber installing fiber lines in December 2015. (WSMV)

It looks like a simple scribble, but it’s a paint job that can avoid major headaches and even save lives.

Colorful markings show contractors where utility lines are located.

By law, crews must call Tennessee 811 before digging anywhere. The service informs local utility groups to mark their underground lines so excavators know where they are digging.

But the Channel 4 I-Team discovered Google Fiber had raised concerns over whether a current Metro Public Works policy was putting the public at risk.

The policy, enacted in January, requires that utility operators mark underground lines using flags, stakes or temporary biodegradable, water soluble or other “low-impact” paint. One-call markings located within the concrete sidewalk area are limited to spray chalk.

Contractors or utility operators must also remove the markings within 30 days after a project is completed.

Mayor Megan Barry requested the creation of the policy.

“Some of those markings were permanent,” Barry said. “And when you look at the streets, I didn’t want to see the visual clutter that comes with those markings.”

But in emails obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team, Google Fiber warned Metro Public Works they would not put aesthetics over public safety.

“We are not willing to put property and lives at risk for aesthetic purposes,” wrote Martha Ivester, Nashville’s city manager for Google Fiber.

Ivester argued contractors could unknowingly erase lines for another project, “possibly contributing to a gas main strike that could cause an explosion, property damage or even a fatal accident.”

And there are many projects underway in Nashville.

As of Friday morning, data from Metro Public Works showed 397 active permits for work in the right-of-way just for Google Fiber contractors.

Dewey Branstetter, a lawyer for Tennessee 811, said erasing markings in a saturated area could pose a serious risk.

“You hit a water line, it’s messy,” Branstetter said. “You hit a sewer line, it’s a little unsanitary. But you hit an electric or gas line and it can be really dangerous.”

Last month, the I-Team found fiber contractors have hit 57 water lines since January 2015, with Google Fiber hitting at least four gas lines.

But none of the incidents are linked to the paint policy, according to Metro Public Works.

“No, I don’t see how it does,” said Mark Macy, assistant director of Metro Public Works, when asked whether the policy endangers public safety.

Today the policy remains the same. But when the I-Team interviewed Macy, he did acknowledge the concern.

“We would like the contractor to clean it up, but we understand why contractors would want to leave the markings alone,” he said.

Spokeswoman Jenna Smith also clarified the rules in a later email.

“If marks need to remain for safety, they are left,” Smith wrote.

Metro Public Works has met with Google to discuss this issue several times.

When asked to clarify Google’s concerns, a spokesperson did not specifically comment on the emails.

“Our goal is to provide super-fast Internet to Nashville and as such we work closely with Metro Public Works on large-scale issues such as locates and paint markings,” wrote Nick Fischer, the network deployment and operations lead for Google Fiber in Nashville, in an email. “We only use water-based paints and we appreciate their continued support of safe and sustainable efforts by all providers."

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