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City council considers new rules for utility companies

City council considers new rules for utility companies

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Utility companies working in the public right-of-way may face new rules after Monday's Columbia City Council meeting.

The council is set to vote on changes to the process utility companies, such as Ameren or Mediacom, go through before, during and after underground work. The new rules are intended to give the city better oversight and accountability of the work done in the public right-of-way, like under streets or sidewalks, and require those roads to be repaired to city standards.

The idea came from a city council work session in October. City staff claim that utility companies are working within the right-of-way without notifying the city or submitting traffic plans.

The new ordinance would charge companies $500, or a rate to be set by the Public Works director, for authorization to work in a public right-of-way. That company could then get excavation or facilities maintenance permits from the city before it begins any work. Those permits will include a notice about any traffic lanes blocked or other city property removed from the work area.

In the case of an emergency, a company could start work right away, and get the work permit as soon as possible.

Comments from the utility companies show many questioned the legality of the new rules.

Along with existing city rules, the director can add specifications to the work permit "to protect the health, safety and welfare, to ensure the structural integrity of the rights-of-way, to protect the property and safety of other users of the rights-of-way, and to minimize the disruption and inconvenience to the traveling public."

Mayor Brian Treece said he supported the new ordinance. The rules will help protect the taxpayer-owned land, he said, and hold companies accountable if something is broken in the process. Treece said he also wanted the rules to apply to above-head public rights-of-way, such as utility poles.

Chris Rohlfing, head of member services for Boone Electric Cooperative, told ABC 17 News the company was well-aware of the new rules. He said he wanted to hear what came out of Monday night's council meeting before offering an opinion.

Contractors made 3,358 calls to Missouri One Call between April 1, 2016 and September 30, 2016 before digging in Columbia, according to a council memo.

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