Orlando, Fla. – Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the only national non-profit association dedicated to preventing damage to underground infrastructure, today presented several local elected leaders with the inaugural Community Groundbreaker Award at their 2023 Conference & Expo at the Caribe Royale Resort.
The local leaders attended CGA’s inaugural Damage Prevention Safety Seminar and committed to learning about preventing water, power, natural gas, internet, and other buried utility lines from being damaged through digging by contractors and homeowners, which occurs 24,000 times each year across Florida. The awards were presented at the opening ceremony for the conference; with more than 1,100 registered attendees representing the utility, construction, insurance, equipment/technology and other industries, it’s the largest conference of its kind in America.
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The inaugural award recipients include: State Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis; State Rep. Rita Harris; Orange County Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero; Mayor Tim Murry, City of Clermont; Commissioner Mike Brunscheen, City of Altamonte Springs; and Commissioner Bakari Burns, City of Orlando.
The conference also included in-person keynote remarks from Deputy Assistant Secretary Alan Williams of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who received the Groundbreaker Award of Excellence from CGA, as well as video remarks from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody; Congressman Darren Soto; State Rep. Doug Bankson; and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
“In Florida and across the country, hitting underground utility lines when digging is too common, and can have serious and far-reaching consequences,” said CGA President and CEO Sarah K. Magruder Lyle. “On behalf of the Common Ground Alliance, I’d like to thank each of the officials who attended our inaugural Damage Prevention Safety Seminar. Their commitment to keeping Central Florida’s residents and businesses safe and connected to the utilities we depend on every day is commendable.”
“The safe deployment of infrastructure delivers progress and improves the lives of homeowners, communities, and all Americans,” said Alan Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Relations at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “With 14 million new housing starts each month across the country, and with billions in new infrastructure spending in Florida through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are a lot of opportunities for damage to the buried infrastructure on which we all rely, unless best practices are followed.”
Damage to underground utilities costs an estimated $30 billion annually nationwide, and damage can result in fatalities, injuries, and disruption to critical services including water and power to homes, businesses, first responders, and others. With Florida slated to receive billions in new infrastructure spending from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the problem will only grow without intervention.
In Florida, utilities are increasingly moving underground. Tampa Electric Company (TECO) is investing $100 million per year to bury overhead electric lines, while Florida Power & Light (FPL) has cited underground electric lines as important for hurricane recovery. Beyond tens of thousands of miles of underground electricity distribution lines, Florida relies on 50,000 miles of natural gas and oil pipelines. The state’s four largest counties operate more than 18,000 miles of water pipes, and the largest internet providers together operate over 30,000 route miles of fiber optic cable across Florida.
“I’ve worked in construction across the state for years,” said John Fluharty, Secretary of CGA’s Board of Directors and a project executive with Quanta Services. “With the current pace of excavation, we need to work together to minimize how often homes, schools and businesses are impacted by dig-ins to underground utilities – and that includes engaging public officials. We had a productive conversation today and I appreciate our Community Groundbreaker Awardees’ time and dialogue. ”
77 percent of all damage to underground utilities comes from just three common mistakes: failing to contact 811 before digging; failing to accurately mark underground utilities or mark them on time; and failing to maintain adequate clearance from underground lines when digging or confirm the location of utilities by test holing. Despite these facts, the annual rate of damage to buried infrastructure has remained stagnant for much of the last decade — and has even increased slightly since 2019.
CGA recently announced its most ambitious goal ever — reducing damages to critical underground utilities by 50 percent in five years. This “50 in 5” challenge aims to address the problem head-on by encouraging several clear, data-driven practices, which in Florida includes contacting Sunshine 811 before every dig, every time.
CGA’s 2023 Conference & Expo will run April 17 through 21, and will feature exhibits, demonstrations of construction and excavation equipment and practices, informative panel discussions, and keynote speakers including Susan O’Malley, the first female president of a professional sports franchise, and Major General John Gronski, U.S. Army (Retired).
ABOUT COMMON GROUND ALLIANCE
Common Ground Alliance is a member-driven organization of nearly 3,200 damage prevention professionals spanning every facet of the industry. Established in 2000, CGA is committed to saving lives and preventing damage to North American underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices, and is the preeminent source of damage prevention data and insights through its Damage Prevention Institute and DIRT Report.