State officials calling for legislation to better regulate utility companies like MetroNet

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently investigating MetroNet after its contractors ruptured six gas lines in Fishers within a month and now a state senator is calling for legislation to better regulate utility companies digging in Indiana.

“It’s something we need to work incredibly hard on next session because we want people to be safe,” said State Senator Jim Merritt, R-Hamilton/Marion County. “We don’t want (homeowners) smelling fumes and wondering if their house is going to blow up.”

Merritt is on the Senate’s Utility Committee and met with MetroNet’s CEO, John Cenelli, Tuesday to discuss the company’s contractors hitting 30 gas line pipes in Indiana this year.

“The meeting went well. They know that they have to bear down,” Merritt said. “This company has a Central Indiana track record they are not proud of.”

In a written statement, a spokesman for MetroNet said “MetroNet is cooperating with the IURC and Senator Merritt to address their concerns. We are committed to safely installing our world-class fiber networks in many communities in Indiana and ensuring our contractors comply with proper procedures to locate gas lines.”

A spokeswoman with the IURC said the commission met with Cenelli as well Tuesday and instructed MetroNet on excavation best practices and explained the investigatory process.

In a written statement, the IURC said “We’re expecting the full investigation for damages involving MetroNet’s contractors to be completed in the next few weeks. Due to the expedited process, the Pipeline Safety Division is planning to complete its investigation in each pending MetroNet contractor case by September 12, 2017.”

MetroNet has not been technically liable in any of the gas lines breaks this year, because contractors have been doing the work, Merritt said, but through legislation the lawmaker hopes to change that.

"The vendor, or utility in this case, is going to have to have skin in the game and we are going to have to have them on site a lot times if you’re working near gas lines," he explained.

Merritt said pipeline safety is a serious issue and recalls in 1997 a gas line ruptured on the north side and there was an explosion that killed an 84-year-old woman.

"We just have to remind ourselves these are constant situations and danger is a shovel away," Merritt said.

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