By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 7/14/19.
The task at hand: locate the underground yellow polypipe gas line, find where it joins to the older, steel piping under La Fonda Drive, update Geographic Information System (GIS) maps, and check for corrosion. The pipe could be 2- to 4-feet underground. A few years ago, this would require digging up a big chunk of the street, but today the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) crew just pops off a relatively small pavement “keyhole”.
Keyholing is quick, but it’s loud. So, Ben Garcia, LCU Gas crew leader, hands out earplugs. Keyholing uses a fast spinning cutter to saw a roughly 2-foot diameter hole through the road pavement; the pavement cap is popped off and laid to the side of the road. It takes about 10 minutes.
Then the LCU crew uses the “vactor truck” to blow a powerful stream of air (220 pounds per square inch) into the hole and clear 2- to 3-feet of dirt out from under the street without any digging. Gas services worker Steve Barela suits up with a clear face visor that protects him from the rocks being tossed back up as he uses the air wand; he takes sporadic breaks to shake off the dirt piling on his pants.
Heavy Equipment Operator, Mannie Rosales, uses the vactor truck’s huge vacuum to suck up the dirt into the truck. It’s clearly a team effort. Soon, Barela finds one pipe, but it’s not the gas line. It’s time for more of a dirt shower. After another little while, they find the gas line.
“We aim to be as unobtrusive as possible with our work,” said Lucio Garcia, LCU deputy director of Gas. “We employ the highest caliber workers who make the most of the
technology to get in and get out while making sure that their work is of the utmost quality.” Enrique Arzabal, LCU Gas locator, comes back to pinpoint the exact connection location. “It’s a team effort. Routine maintenance like this – checking for corrosion at steel and polypipe connections - is critical to ensuring the overall safety of the gas line,” said Dr. Garcia. When the work is done, the dirt stored in the truck is pumped back into the hole. With gravel added as an underlayment to get to the right level, the pavement circle is bonded back into the street. Crew leader Garcia brushes off what was the hole. He says, “It’s like it never even happened.”
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU Gas worker, Steve Barela, pushes dirt out of a hole in the pavement to find gas lines without having to open up the entire street. The dirt is sucked up by the vacuum controlled by LCU Heavy Equipment Operator, Mannie Rosales, and then filled back in after the lines are found, inspected, and repaired as needed.