PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Elorza administration is drawing a line in the asphalt between itself and National Grid.
In an attempt to address the concerns of City Council members and residents, the city’s Department of Public Works is refusing to issue new permits to the natural gas side of the utility company until it makes repairs to roads it has already cut into.
The prohibition has been in effect since August, but it was first disclosed to the Council Finance Committee Wednesday evening by Michael Borg, the city’s director of public property. (Borg instituted the ban while he was director of public works, but he has since transitioned to a new role.)
“I can confirm that Providence DPW is currently not issuing permits to National Grid gas for failure to repair and make permanent repairs to work they have done in the public right of way,” Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Mayor Elorza, told Eyewitness News.
National Grid still has approval to cut into roads for emergency purposes – like leaks – but Borg told the committee the city has identified $56,000 in repairs the company still needs to make before it will be allowed to receive new permits.
State law requires utility companies that alter roadways to “restore that portion of the roadway which was altered to the same or better condition that existed prior to alteration,” but Borg said the city ramped up enforcement during his tenure overseeing public works.
Borg said utility companies and contractors are required to obtain a permit any time they cut into city streets. After work is complete, they are expected to temporarily patch the road and ultimately make a more permanent repair. He said the final repair is supposed to come with a five-year warranty, and the permits allow the city to track whether the companies actually follow through on their obligations.
"The fine is not important to me,” Borg said, referring to the $56,000 in repairs National Grid owes the city. “It's about fixing the roads.”
In statement, Ted Kresse, a spokesperson for National Grid, said the company “did experience some delays this year in repairing roadways and sidewalks where we had completed leak repairs or gas main replacement in Providence,” but the issue has been resolved and all remaining patches will be restored by mid-December.
“As winter approaches, we recognize the city’s urgency to have these areas addressed and we are doing everything possible to get to them,” Kresse said. “We have a mitigation plan in place and continue to meet with the city on a regular basis to discuss our progress.”
But Councilman Michael Correia (Ward 6), said he is concerned that National Grid hasn’t followed through on its promise to restore roads to their original condition. He said he wants the city’s law department to go to Superior Court to seek a judgment against the company.
"It's National Grid's responsibility to restore the street back to its original condition,” Correia said. “And as of now they have not done that.”
Correia said the temporary patches are particularly concerning because they are easily torn up during the winter months as snow plows move throughout the city. He showed Eyewitness News examples of the crumbling streets around Regent Avenue and Alton Street.
"You end up with potholes, you end up with sinkholes,” Correia said. “On the sidewalks, it does the same thing. It sinks down. You end up with trip hazards.”