Phone outages blamed on unmarked wires

At least 75 Verizon phone customers have been left without telephone service — sometimes for several days or more — in the latest accidental cable cuts this month in the Ocean View area, a spokeswoman for Verizon has confirmed.

Workers installing a central water system in the town have accidentally cut several cables since work began in mid-January. Town officials blamed the mishaps on wires marked incorrectly.

Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette estimated the number of customers affected at 75 but could not pin down an exact number or say how long they went without service. She said the phone company responded as quickly as possible, but she questioned why so many cables have been cut and contested the argument that they were marked incorrectly.

“It’s my understanding the area has been pretty well marked,” Arnette said, adding, “I’m not sure why the cables were being cut. Certainly, when (cables) were cut, we have been trying to get the service restored quickly.”

Workers apparently hit the phone line leading to the home of Coastal Point News Editor Tricia Titus sometime on Wednesday, March 21, while working on the water line going in across the street.

“I’m not sure when we’d have realized the phone was out of service, except that my mother called mid-day Thursday and wasn’t able to get any answer after several tries and several hours,” Titus said. “She finally called my cell phone that evening, very concerned.”

Titus acknowledged that she’d expected some limited interruptions in phone and cable service during the construction, even though lines in her own yard had been marked many weeks prior. But what surprised her was the slow response from Verizon.

“When we called Thursday afternoon, we were told it would be a week before a repair worker could even come out to see what was wrong — and we were perfunctorily warned we might be charged for the service call,” she said.

Titus said she called Ocean View Town Hall about the problem the following morning, after a previous public statement town officials had made about potential water-system construction problems and notifying town hall were they to happen.

“I hoped they might be able to speed the process with Verizon, since we knew it was a construction cut, but I was told I wasn’t the only one who’d had the problem and that the town wasn’t able to exert much pull to get things fixed faster,” she said.

Chris Beckman of Davis, Bowen and Friedel, Ocean View’s town engineer, said there have been improperly-marked wires, adding the contractor has been “diligent” about averting problems that ultimately slow work.

“Contractors have been pretty diligent about not cutting wires,” Beckman said. “But we have been, since Day 1, cutting wires. There are many dead wires and some live wires that weren’t marked. Most of the wires getting torn out were wires that weren’t properly marked.”

With five or six crews working daily since Jan. 15, Beckman also blamed at least some of the mishaps on the sheer number of workers on the job, digging at one time. He said the crews have been working mainly in the Country Village, Woodland Acres and Woodland Estates developments and along Hudson Avenue. The crews sometimes hit up to two cables a day, Beckman added, many of which were not working prior to the cuts.

“Sometimes we hit more,” Beckman said. “Every single time (we hit cables) the crew stops and calls it in immediately. Guys try to knock on the doors and see if anyone is out of service.”

Titus said she’d talked to construction workers on the morning of March 23, who told her they weren’t aware of any cuts from the previous days’ work. She said she also hadn’t seen any of the crew record or otherwise report that her line had been cut. No one had knocked on her door about a potential problem, she said.

The workers also told her the week-long response time from Verizon was expected — or could even be two weeks or longer — as the construction work and the laying of new fiber-optic network cable was taxing the telephone company’s crews beyond their capacity.

When a Verizon repairman finally arrived at Titus’ home on March 29, she said he confirmed the company was very busy with regular work and fiber optic installation, but he also said construction cuts in the area had been excessive. “He attributed them to a lack of care on the part of the construction crews,” she said.

“I know there are a lot of people out of service, but that can be attributed to the amount of crews working,” and improperly marked wires, Beckman told the Coastal Point. “They don’t want to hit them because it slows them down. (But) we’ve got six crews working. Invariably somebody is going to hit something.”

Town staff told Titus that there had been at least one major problem resulting from the cuts. When a family member of another Ocean View resident had died, they said, the family had been forced to call the Ocean View Police Department to try to inform him of the death. His phone line had also been cut during construction and the family had been unable to reach him through normal channels, they said.

Titus noted that the loss of home phone service for more than a week was more of an inconvenience for her, but both she and town staff had concerns about the potential impact of the outages.

“I’m particularly concerned that someone who doesn’t get phone calls on a regular basis is going to be unaware that their line is out and might need to call 911 in an emergency. That extra time to go next door or down the street to make a call could be costly,” she said.

“There are many people in the area — particularly older people — who don’t have a cell phone or work outside the home,” she noted. “I suppose they’re just going to have to check their phone lines regularly while construction continues in their neighborhoods and warn anyone who might try to call them.”

Customers left without service are being urged to call Ocean View Town Hall at (302) 539-9797.