Formal investigation launched into gas explosion that killed firefighter
USIC claims drilling company VC Tech violated state law when it failed to notify the state utility call center, known as Diggers Hotline, before starting work
By Chris Hubbuch
The Wisconsin State Journal
SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. — State utility regulators have opened a formal investigation into last summer’s fatal Sun Prairie natural gas explosion that killed a firefighter and leveled several buildings in the city’s downtown.
The Public Service Commission voted unanimously Thursday to investigate a complaint filed by USIC Locating Services, the company that was contracted to mark the locations of underground pipes.
USIC claims drilling company VC Tech violated state law when it failed to notify the state utility call center, known as Diggers Hotline, before starting work on July 10. VC Tech has denied that allegation.
VC Tech struck an underground gas line while boring a hole for fiber-optic communications cable being installed by Verizon. The blast killed Cory Barr, a captain with the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department, and injured two other firefighters. Five buildings were destroyed, several others were damaged and dozens of residents were displaced.
Sun Prairie police determined there was no crime committed, instead blaming miscommunication between contractors. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month fined VC Tech and contractor Bear Communications for failing to notify the hotline.
Barr’s widow, the injured firefighters and the city of Sun Prairie have each sued Bear, VC Tech, USIC and We Energies.
If the commission determines there is cause to believe a violation occurred, it will order a hearing. USIC can also demand a hearing if the commission does not find probable cause.
Under state law, the commission can issue a fine of $25,000 per violation. VC Tech could face up to $500,000 in fines if the commission finds multiple violations.
Filed in December, the complaint is the first sent to the Commission by Diggers Hotline under a 2018 law establishing an enforcement panel to handle complaints regarding natural gas and other hazardous materials.
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