The city council adopted measures on Tuesday evening to deter utility companies from improperly resurfacing roads after they have been ripped open for underground repairs.
The first measure requires utility companies to post security deposits or surety bonds in case they default on performance.
“It’s about how you open the road and how you leave it once your work is done,” said law director Domenick Stampone. The ordinance sets specific standards like the type of backfill a company must use and it must adhere to New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) standards.
The second measure requires utility companies to pay up if they damage or disturb underground utilities owned by the city. “In a city like Paterson that has decades if not centuries of underground systems we have situations and our engineer has repeatedly encountered problems where one utility disturbs a road to handle its own utility work, but does nothing to protect other utilities that exist,” said Stampone.
Stampone said there’s sewer system, gas lines, and electrical conduit that run underground. He said the ordinance requires the owners of utilities to notify the city and protect against damage to nearby utilities.
Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward, and Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward, mentioned horror stories of utility companies ripping open roads only to leave them badly repaired or not repaired at all.
“I don’t see what the monetary penalty is if they default,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He wanted to know the amount a utility company had to deposit.
Stampone said he did not know the dollar amount. He noted the city’s engineer determines the amount.
“If we don’t know what the monetary amount is going to be and we’re leaving it up to a third party to determine that the ordinance itself will ultimately have no teeth whatsoever,” said Morris. He said if the city wants utility companies to rectify the roads after opening them there has to be a fear that they will “lose something” — in this case their deposits.
Morris noted if that deposit is too small the companies may just walk away and not bother to properly repair the roads they opened. “If the deposit is $250 what do they care, it’s just the cost of doing business,” said Morris. “But if the cost is $1,000 per linear foot and you got a thousand linear feet, now you’re talking about considerable amount of money that they are not going to risk losing.”
The first measure also adjusts regulation relating to permits to open roads. Stampone said the excavation permit fee set in 1979 is $500. Morris laughed at the number pointing out the value of the dollar 36 years later is not the same.
Morris wanted to update the fees. Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, wanted to see the 1979 ordinance.
Some council members wanted to make the updates to the antiquated sections of the ordinance before approving the two new measures. However, a fiber optics project at the Passaic County Community College, in which the college is laying underground cables, by opening roads nearby, made it necessary to expedite and approve the measure.
Morris said there may be a reason why utility companies do a better job repairing roads in other towns. He said other towns may be requiring utility companies to deposit larger sums of money which is jeopardized or forfeited when a firm does shabby work in restoring a road.