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BGE lawsuit reveals that many safety posts around new gas regulators “are not protecting anything”

A contractor and management company are accused of allowing thousands of bollards to be improperly placed around BGE’s controversial outdoor gas regulators

Above: Two bollards installed to protect a BGE gas meter outside a commercial building on Falls Road in Hampden. (Fern Shen)

As city residents battle Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over outdoor gas regulators they say are unsightly and unsafe, BGE is quietly suing a contractor, saying it shoddily and unsafely installed metal posts, or bollards, around thousands of those meters across its service area.

“The sole purpose for installing bollards around gas meters is to protect those meters from vehicular traffic, thereby protecting the safety of our customers, the public and their property,” the lawsuit says. But due to allegedly sloppy construction practices, “countless bollards are not protecting anything.”

The previously unreported lawsuit, filed by BGE in Baltimore Circuit Court last month against Precision Pipeline Solutions and Black & Veatch Management Consulting, adds a new twist to the debate over the utility’s controversial program to relocate high-pressure gas regulators from the interior to the exterior of homes.

While BGE publicly says the relocated equipment is safer and provides easier access to first responders, the lawsuit reveals that thousands of bollards installed around the regulators can be bent or even pulled up – and offer no real defense against a vehicle slamming into them, causing a potential explosion.

• At 5 p.m. tonight, the City Council will hold an informational public hearing on the 4th floor of City Hall on BGE’s gas regulator program.

Relatively few of the bollards have been placed in Baltimore City, where public protests and a lawsuit seek to halt installation.

Instead, the external meters in Federal Point, Federal Hill, Canton and elsewhere have no physical protection (save for a flower pot or bricks placed as a barrier by the property owner) despite often being just a few feet from the street.

The bollards referenced in the lawsuit are mostly found at suburban townhouse developments and commercial establishments.

In 2016, the Maryland Public Service Commission ordered BGE to protect gas meters located in the path of a vehicle after a gas explosion ripped through several townhouses in Columbia in 2015.

BGE says 95% of the commercial bollards and 84% of the residential bollards were unstable or placed too high or too low from the ground.

BGE decided as part of its Gas Meter Vehicular Protection Plan to relocate 6,000 indoor residential garage regulators outside – protecting them, when necessary, with bollards – and additionally to place poles around 10,000 existing outdoor commercial meters.

After installation was mostly complete, BGE says it discovered that 95% of the new 4-inch-diameter commercial bollards and 84% of the 2½-inch-diameter residential bollards were “unstable” or placed either too high or too low from the ground.

Some 3,300 residential bollards, for example, could easily be pushed or pulled out of the ground, the lawsuit says. And nearly 2,000 of them failed to meet the above-grade height requirement.

BGE gas regulator on Bond Street in Fells Point. (Mark Reutter)

A BGE gas regulator outside a rowhouse on Bond Street in Fells Point. Asphalt covers the brick public sidewalk that was broken up to install the equipment. (Mark Reutter)

“Cutting corners, maximizing profits”

The lawsuit accuses Precision Pipeline of “cutting corners, presumably to save time and maximize its profits,” when installing the posts.

“Precision simply dug a hole in the ground and stuck a bollard inside that hole. No measurements were apparently taken; whatever portion of a given bollard fit into a hole was the portion that would be installed below grade,” the lawsuit says.

The contractor didn’t pour concrete into the hole prior to installing the bollard, as required, according to the lawsuit. Rather, some concrete was slapped down after a post was inserted, causing many posts to lean to one side after the concrete dried.

And instead of pouring concrete into the hollow interior of the bollard, as specified, “Precision used the interior as its own personal trash can,” filling bollards up with dirt and rock, then capping them off with a layer of concrete.

BGE says it found candy wrappers, empty soda bottles and other refuse inside some of the bollards.

For two years, these deficiencies went unnoticed because BGE says its relied on the representations of Black & Veatch.

None of these problems was detected for two years, the lawsuit says, because BGE relied on the representations of Black & Veatch, its program manager.

“Black & Veatch provided BGE documentation confirming that the bollards installed by Precision had been inspected and, further, they had passed inspection without issue.”

On January 1, 2020, BGE took over project management and began performing its own inspections. “The results of these inspections were shocking,” says the lawsuit, and the contract with Precision was terminated in October 2020.

By that time, BGE had paid the contractor $4 million, with $3.5 million more going to Black & Veatch.

Potted plant in front of a BGE gas regulator on Fells Point's Bond Street. (Mark Reutter)

A potted plant placed in front of a new BGE regulator on Bond Street. (Mark Reutter)

No Comment from Defendants

BGE said Precision agreed last February to “remediate” 1,200 commercial bollards over the next 12 months. But the company reneged on the agreement, BGE says, having installed just 15 bollards before the lawsuit was filed on June 9.

Initially, Black & Veatch was also open to negotiations, the lawsuit adds. But “BGE’s attempts to escalate this matter to the next level of leadership have fallen on deaf ears. . . and more than 30 days have elapsed without resolution of this dispute.”

Neither company responded to emails from The Brew seeking comment. Nor have they filed any response to the lawsuit in Circuit Court.

BGE seeks more than $75,000 in damages, to be determined by a jury, from each company.

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