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AT&T Fiber project on hold after contractor strikes gas main, county permit expires

"At what point does it become a public safety issue,” asked Schmitz. "On this street alone they've hit a total of three gas lines."

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A south St. Louis County homeowner is safely back in his house Thursday night after being evacuated for more than five hours after contractors struck a gas main in his front yard.

If you drive down Smizer Mill Rd. in south St. Louis County it's easy to see the calling cards of construction, but Kenneth Schmitz never thought it would force him from his home.

"I'm letting you know we hit a gas line over there,” a male contractor can be heard telling Schmitz in Ring doorbell video.

"What does that mean,” asked Kenneth Schmitz. “Could it be coming in our house? What's going on?"

"Yeah, don't turn on anything,” said the contractor.

"It turns out they hit a gas main, which is essentially like a fire hydrant of gas,” said Schmitz in an interview with 5 On Your Side.

Under Missouri state law Olam Communications, a subcontractor laying AT&T Fiber in the neighborhood, was supposed to have all utilities in the neighborhood marked before breaking ground.

In video obtained by 5 On Your Side, a site supervisor can be heard telling Schmitz that wasn’t the case.

"We didn't know that line was there,” said a female contractor. “It was an unmarked line, so there's only so much we can do."

However, Schmitz said that wasn't the most concerning thing he heard from the work crew.

"Can I ask how many incidents we've had in this neighborhood on this project,” Schmitz can be heard asking contractors.

"We've had too many for sure,” said the female contractor.

"At what point does it become a public safety issue,” asked Schmitz. "On this street alone they've hit a total of three gas lines, two power lines, and they've knocked out telecommunications multiple times."

AT&T's permit for the project expired the same day that subcontractors struck the gas line.

"They then came back on Monday with no permit and tried to dig again down the street and we again had the police remove them,” said Schmitz. “At this point the police called the company and they admitted they were working without a permit."

"AT&T has reapplied to have their permit reinstated,” said St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch. “We put it on hold."

Fitch said St. Louis County is now looking for certain assurances from AT&T before they allow work to resume.

"We're not going to continue to let them work out there unless they can do it safely,” said Fitch. “Until they can assure us to our satisfaction, and the neighborhood's satisfaction, that this isn't going to happen again we're not going to let them move forward."

An AT&T spokesperson provided 5 On Your Side with this statement on the incident: 

Our goal is to minimize impact on residents before, during and after construction related to our network expansion. Following damage to a gas line at Smizer Mill Road, the contractor notified the local gas utility so that repairs could be made as quickly as possible. At this time, this project is on hold.  Our contractors are trained to obtain proper permitting, follow local construction codes, and abide by rules governing rights-of-way and property easements. We review performance with our contractors performing the work.

Sources with multiple agencies have confirmed the incident is under investigation, but to date, no one has been cited.

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