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State senate passes clarification bill for roadbuilders and utilities, revives oil pipeline installation bill

By: Ethan Duran//September 15, 2023//

The Wisconsin State Senate on Thursday voted on two pieces of legislation related to the construction industry. The senate voted to override a veto on a bill that would ban municipalities from restricting certain utility services depending on what energy sources they use. Another bill would create a process for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to award compensation to roadbuilders whose projects have been hindered by utility lines discovered mid-project. Photo courtesy of WisconsinEye

State senate passes clarification bill for roadbuilders and utilities, revives oil pipeline installation bill

By: Ethan Duran//September 15, 2023//

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The Wisconsin State Senate on Thursday passed a bill clarifying damages for roadbuilders who run into utilities on the job and a revived a bill that would bar cities, towns and counties from banning oil pipeline installations.

After making an amendment, lawmakers voted to pass Senate Bill 270. The legislation would create a process for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to compensate transportation contractors for delays when progress is halted after they run into utility lines during state road projects. Construction companies expressed their support for the bill as utilities and roadbuilders interact more frequently.

According to the bill text, WisDOT “shall consider all information provided by the contractor … if the department determines that a utility relocation delay occurred, the department shall compensate the contractor for costs incurred as a result of the utility relocation delay and may not impose liquidated damages,” in case of a roadbuilder has to stop work to move utility lines.

As suburbs grow along with its accompanying utility infrastructure, there have been more interactions with contractors and utilities, explained Dan Zignego, president of Zignego Co.

“This issue has been escalating over the years because when it was one gas main on one project, it was a big deal on that project. But now it’s every state highway anywhere near an urban center,” Zignego said.

JR Ramthun, president of Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association (WTBA) and senior vice president of highways at Michels Road & Stone, praised the legislation and said it would make work sites safer.

“This bill will not only reduce costs but also produce a safer work site, which is a must-have for all of us; not just for our employees but the people in the places we serve, too. Utilities are even more likely to move in a timely and accurate manner. Engaging all stakeholders – bringing everyone to the table from the beginning ensures this bill works,” Ramthun added.

The legislation also passed on a voice vote from the Wisconsin State Assembly. It will go to the governor’s office next.

The state senate also voted to override a veto against Senate Bill 49, which the bill text said would restrict local regulation of utility services depending on where its energy is sourced from. On Aug. 4, Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the bill, citing concern over local control and the state’s ability to turn away from fossil fuels. On Thursday, the veto override passed 22-11, with only Democratic members of the state senate voting “no.”

SB 49 would ban municipalities from placing restrictions on connections or reconnections of utility services, such as electric, manufactured gas, liquified petroleum or natural gas, according to the bill text. Under the legislation, municipalities wouldn’t be able to restrict public utilities or retailers based on where their source of energy comes from.

The legislation would affect municipalities’ control over utilities or energy companies installing oil and gas pipelines through their boundaries. On the other hand, it affects utilities and labor unions who want to employ construction workers and install pipelines across the state.

Under the proposal, any village, city, town or county in Wisconsin wouldn’t be able to “place any restriction, either directly or in effect, on the connection or reconnection of a utility service based upon the type or source of energy to be delivered to an individual consumer within the political subdivision,” according to the bill text.

Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) said during the session the bill proposed something wildly popular and people in Wisconsin wanted to be able to use natural gas.

“We should take action on things that are wildly popular and have broad bipartisan support and things the people of the state of Wisconsin want. They want to use natural gas. They want to have reliable electricity and power. That’s what this bill is,” Bradley added.

In his veto message in August, Evers said he vetoed the bill because it would undermine control and trust in local governments across the state. It would also create complications for communities who wanted to stop using fossil fuels, he noted.

“This bill could jeopardize our communities’ and our state’s future ability to transition away from fossil fuels or to collectively combat climate change. The state should be a partner – not an obstacle to – addressing the unique challenges facing our local communities,” Evers added.

The Legislature can override a veto if two-thirds of both houses are in favor of the bill. If the bill passes it becomes an act and its changes are added into state statutes as law.


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