First reported 5/22/2009 6:20 p.m.

Excavation work that resulted in the rupture of an underground gas line in downtown Oak Park on Friday morning shouldn’t have been in progress that day.

State law requires that excavators wait two full business days before digging to allow all utilities to come to the location and mark their buried lines with both spray paint and colored flags.

According to Kevin Chmura of JULIE, the Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators, someone from Sciortino and Sons Concrete called Thursday afternoon, May 21, to say there would be excavation work behind the Regency Club condominium development on the 100 block of N. Marion.

“They needed to wait until 2:15 Tuesday afternoon to start excavating,” Chmura said Friday, referring to Sciortino and Sons.

JULIE, a not-for-profit group that provides homeowners and professional excavators with one place to call for safe digging, contacts utilities and informs them of the intent to dig at a specific address.

Calls by Wednesday Journal to several offices to find the governmental consequences of such a violation were not returned by presstime Tuesday morning.

Around 10 a.m. Friday morning, workers from Sciortino and Sons were excavating with a large backhoe when they ruptured a high-pressure 2-inch natural gas pipeline in numerous places, leading to the closure of parts of Ontario and N. Marion streets.

“Our officer on scene said the workers told him they’d contacted JULIE,” said Deputy Fire Chief Tom Ebsen. “From what we can tell, there were no utility markers anywhere around there.”

The pipeline is at the south end of the Regency Club development owned by Alex Troyanovsky. General contractor for the project is Universal One Builders of Oak Park. Messages left by Wednesday Journal since Friday at the office of Universal One Builders were not returned by presstime Tuesday morning.

Police and fire units responded immediately Friday and began evacuating buildings along Lake and Marion streets. Residents of the Regency Club and Sanctuary buildings to the north of Chase Bank on the 100 block of N. Marion were evacuated. Business owners across the street to the west were notified of the situation and most chose to leave.

Nicor Gas crews arrived shortly after emergency personnel but, according to one firefighter, didn’t have the appropriate equipment to cap the leak.

Beat officer Jim Vonesh said he was standing at the corner of Harlem and Lake when the break occurred. Even that far away, he said, the smell of gas was overpowering as a steady wind blew the gas south and west.

Nicor crews spent an hour excavating a large pit around a 4-inch main 250 feet north of the damaged line under the parkway, adjacent to Ontario. It took another 20 minutes to literally “squeeze off” the 4-inch diameter PVC gas line with a large portable vice.

Police reopened Marion to traffic at 12:45. Ontario between Marion and Forest remained closed until the repairs were done and the excavation filled in, sometime after 5 p.m.

“This type of incident is an opportunity to remind readers to contact JULIE prior to any type of digging project and about the importance of safe digging practices,” Chmura said.

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