Citizens discusses sinkholes, manhole covers with regulatory commission

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Sinkholes and manhole covers were the topic of discussion Friday before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

Citizens Energy Group was on the hot seat, talking about problems the company has recently experienced with both.

It all started July 4th in the intersection of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Citizens went right to work to fix it by July 13. On July 19, a routine inspection turned up another problem at the intersection of Maryland and Illinois.

"You always know safety is one of our five core values, so it's clear that at Citizens Energy Group, safety is top of mind," Jeff Harrison, Citizens president and CEO.

On Friday, Citizens had to explain to IURC the problems it is currently confronting.

The company has 3,200 miles of pipe. 71 miles of that is comprised of brick, averaging 50 years in age.

One at Penn and Ohio forced Citizens to act faster.

"The two sewer failures that occurred in close proximity and time was very unusual. It caused us to start a focused and targeted rapid condition assessment involving a number of crews consisting of internal and external resources. Those crews were deployed in a targeted and immediate manner and inspected some 459 manholes and 500 sewer systems. It was all done by August 1st," Jeff Harrison said.

While the first sinkhole was a failure, Citizens told the IURC the second was not.

"Wasn't a visible failure but was caught through our routine inspection program, so when we looked at the area we discovered around the manhole had basically disintegrated under the pavement and had fallen into the sewer," said Mark Jacob, a Citizens vice president.

Citizens told the IURC it will take time to fix the sewer system but there were 118 failures when they took over in 2011. That is now down to an average of 70 a year.

Manholes are another problem. A recent incident where a minivan was struck by a manhole cover was also addressed.

"What the customer said was a truck, a loose manhole cover on the street, a truck hit that manhole, popped it up in the air and hit her car. We don't have any reason to believe that is not what happened but we want to make sure that there wasn't some other contributing factor," said Dan Considine, a Citizens spokesman.

The rapid inspection program will do just that. It will go from inspecting every ten years to every five.