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Message from Common Council to utility companies: Call before you dig

File Photo
National Public Radio

Buffalo Common Council members are blasting local utilities for the way they treat the public and customers when doing projects.
The complaints wouldn't surprise residents who have seen tree companies trim branches around utility lines, leave the branches and walk away. Or those whose front lawns have been dug up for new gas lines or to install new gas meters without fixing them back up.

The city has very little voice in what happens, although it does control water and sewer lines. The anger hits a peak this week just before people arrive for Thanksgiving.

Council President Darius Pridgen said a residents are not being notified quickly enough of projects.

"Even last night, I was in the hardware store. A gentleman, all upset, comes up to me, thinking that we had the power or the knowledge that his lawn was going to be torn up," Pridgen said. "It's the holidays and he has family coming over and wouldn't have a driveway, wouldn't have a front yard, and he refused to let them do any work there."

Pridgen said he just lived through an example of it.

"Our street was dug up. You didn't know whether you were going to have water, didn't know whether you were going to have gas, and had no notification," he said. "So what we have been informed is some of these covenants and agreements date back to the early 1900s, and whoever gave the leeway that the utilities could just blatantly go in the streets, tear up lawns, unfortunately, maybe that was a different time. This is a new time."

University District Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt said his lawn was torn up.

"They were putting in new lines, but not everyone knew that and, unfortunately, because I'm on a corner lot, it's a little bit different. Mine was open a lot longer," Wyatt said. "But I want to work with them. I want to work with their contractors. But if you don't communicate with the residents who I represent, I'm going to be very angry. And when folks come home and they think their gas is off because you had not notified them that your gas will be off because you're doing new lines, that's not acceptable."

Pridgen said government and even Albany has to look at what is going on, because it is hard on residents to live with torn-up streets, lawns or driveways or even landscaping damaged by cut branches.

Neither of the Council members who spoke at Tuesday's meeting gave resident addresses and National Fuel did not want to comment without addresses.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.