The Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved a motion Friday that gives field inspectors the authority to seek immediate legal action to shut down excavation or demolition sites for health and safety violations.
The commission debated for about half an hour on whether PUC inspectors who see something on the site that they believe is a danger to the public need to get the commission’s approval before seeking an injunction in District Court.
Commissioner Sam Thompson in Las Vegas said the way he reads the state law, there must be “exigent circumstances” for the possibility of death or serious bodily injury to invoke the statute.
“I believe the statute is probably clear that it does allow staff to go to court for injunctive relief,” he said. “This is extraordinary relief. For extraordinary relief, there must be an immediate threat.”
Staff counsel Alaina Burtenshaw said they’re not going to “cry ‘wolf.’” The problem crops up in the field where excavation crews are digging near high-pressure gas lines and underground electrical wires, she said.
The action came in an agenda item requiring Mastec North America to show cause why it should not be assessed a civil penalty for violations involving the installation of conduit for fiber-optic lines along Eastern Avenue. Mastec’s boring equipment struck and damaged a gas line.
A second agenda item required Clark County to also show cause why it shouldn’t be assessed a penalty for the same project. PUC staff found evidence that Clark County violated the law by not marking the location of its storm drain under Eastern. The gas line ran underneath the storm drain.
There was no public comment at the meeting.
PUC general counsel Jan Cohen asked what would happen if the commission did not agree with staff’s decision to seek an injunction.
“If I was the opposing party, I’d take that straight to court,” answered assistant general counsel Dave Noble in Carson City.
Thompson said staff has general statutory authority to seek relief and didn’t think the commission should be establishing any legal procedures at the meeting.
“I’m sure as good lawyers, they’re going to implement the same protocol,” he said.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0491.