Missouri News

Marion County considers imposing rules for burying utility lines

Marion County Courthouse
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 25, 2019 12:01 am

PALMYRA, Mo. -- The Marion County Commission is drafting a set of rules that will stipulate where, when and how utility companies can bury underground lines near the county's roads, bridges and culverts.

Commissioners said Monday they've been encountering a number of problems with buried lines -- especially when repairing or replacing culverts and bridges.

Western District Commissioner Steve Begley said he has seen county highway department crews cleaning out a roadside ditch and unexpectedly pull up a telephone line buried only a few inches below the surface.

On other occasions, he said, he's seen a county crew start to replace a damaged culvert only to discover a utility line buried atop the structure.

"Many times our work has been held up because their utility line is in the way, and it's causing us a lot of trouble," Begley said. "It really cuts into the county's resources and time."

Begley said utility companies must be held responsible for their lines and for any damage that might occur when the county is carrying out routine repairs and maintenance along roadways.

"They can't do this on us anymore," Begley said.

County officials said utility companies sometimes don't even seek the county's permission when burying their lines. Officials said Monday they heard a company was in the process of installing a fiber optic cable in the Hannibal area, and county officials said they don't recall being contacted.

The new rules -- still in development -- will require utility companies to get permission from the county's highway department supervisor before burying any cables in the vicinity of county roads, bridges and culverts.

County officials are looking at the possibility of stipulating all buried lines be placed at least five feet outside of the county's right-of-way for roads and bridges, although Begley noted that utility companies will at times need to bore under roads.

"They've got to get to the other side of the road," he said.

Presiding Commissioner David Lomax said he will ask that the guidelines require utility companies to follow "established standards" for depth and materials when burying cables near the county's roads and bridges.

In other action, Teya Stice, the county's land use and capital improvements coordinator, announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is finally releasing $83,442 in federal reimbursement for a little-used bridge that washed out in June 2015.

The 106-year-old bridge on County Road 117 was not replaced, however. Instead, the commission pushed ahead with plans to use the settlement money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for a new Wenneker Bridge on County Road 104 near Nelsonville.

The Wenneker Bridge was finished in late 2017 using county funds, and only now is FEMA releasing the reimbursement money that was promised to the county.

Also at Monday's meeting, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau, Michael Amantea of St. Louis, was on hand to give a presentation to the commission on the 2020 Census "Community Partnership and Engagement Program." This program tries to engage community partners to help improve the participation of people who are less likely to respond or might be missed when the census is conducted next year.

However, when Amantea asked that he be allowed to give his presentation in closed session because he is "not authorized to speak" when the news media is present, a Herald-Whig reporter objected on grounds that the Missouri Sunshine Law doesn't allow public meetings to be closed for such a reason. Amantea then packed up and left, saying he would have to reschedule his presentation for another day.

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