Common Ground Alliance delivers first-ever Community Groundbreaker awards
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Warning flags on green grass of a residential lawn.
Damage to underground utilities costs an estimated $30B annually nationwide.

Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a group that promotes education and policy to prevent damage to underground infrastructure, recognized six state and local elected officials this week at its 2023 conference in Orlando.

The inaugural Community Groundbreaker Awards went to state Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, state Rep. Rita Harris, Orange County Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero, Clermont Mayor Tim Murry, Altamonte Springs Commissioner Mike Brunscheen and Orlando Commissioner Bakari Burns.

This was the group’s first Damage Prevention Safety Seminar. Award recipients at the event committed to learning how to prevent water, power, natural gas, internet and other buried utility line damage caused by digging by contractors and homeowners, which occurs 24,000 times each year across Florida.

The awards were presented at the opening ceremony for the conference, attended by more than 1,200 participants representing the utility, construction, insurance, equipment manufacturing and other industries.

The conference also included in-person keynote remarks from Deputy Assistant Secretary and former state Rep. Alan Williams of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who received the Groundbreaker Award of Excellence from CGA. The event also featured video remarks from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, state Rep. Doug Bankson and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

“In Florida and across the country, hitting underground utility lines when digging is too common, and can have serious and far-reaching consequences,” said CGA President and CEO Sarah K. Magruder Lyle.

“On behalf of the Common Ground Alliance, I’d like to thank each of the officials who attended our inaugural Damage Prevention Safety Seminar. Their commitment to keeping Central Florida’s residents and businesses safe and connected to the utilities we depend on every day is commendable.”

Damage to underground utilities costs an estimated $30 billion annually nationwide, and damage can result in death, injury and disruption to critical services, including water and power to homes, businesses, first responders and others. With Florida slated to receive billions in new infrastructure spending from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the problem will only grow without intervention.

“The safe deployment of infrastructure delivers progress and improves the lives of homeowners, communities, and all Americans,” Williams said.

“With 14 million new housing starts each month across the country, and with billions in new infrastructure spending in Florida through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are a lot of opportunities for damage to the buried infrastructure on which we all rely, unless best practices are followed.”

In Florida, utilities are increasingly moving underground. Tampa Electric Company (TECO) is investing $100 million per year to bury overhead electric lines, while Florida Power & Light (FPL) has cited underground electric lines as important for hurricane recovery.

Beyond tens of thousands of miles of underground electricity distribution lines, Florida relies on 50,000 miles of natural gas and oil pipelines. The state’s four largest counties operate more than 18,000 miles of water pipes, and the largest internet providers together operate more than 30,000 route miles of fiber optic cable across Florida.

“Orange County is one of Florida’s and America’s fastest growing counties, and with that growth comes opportunities for new housing, roads and businesses, but also damage to underground utilities,” Gomez Cordero said.

“I thank the Common Ground Alliance for bringing together Central Florida’s elected leaders to share the important message that digging must be done safely to protect the people and places that make our region special.”

In all, 77% of damage to underground utilities comes from just three common mistakes: failing to contact 811 before digging, failing to accurately mark underground utilities or mark them on time, and failing to maintain adequate clearance from underground lines when digging. The annual rate of damage to buried infrastructure has remained stagnant for much of the last decade, with a slight increase since 2019.

“I’ve worked in construction across the state for years,” said John Fluharty, Secretary of CGA’s board of directors and a project executive with Quanta Services.

“With the current pace of excavation, we need to work together to minimize how often homes, schools and businesses are impacted by dig-ins to underground utilities — and that includes engaging public officials. We had a productive conversation today and I appreciate our Community Groundbreaker Awardees’ time and dialogue.”

The association recently announced an ambitious new goal of reducing damages to critical underground utilities by 50% in five years. This “50 in 5” challenge aims to address the problem by encouraging several clear, data-driven practices, which in Florida includes contacting Sunshine 811 before every dig, every time.

CGA’s 2023 Conference & Expo will run April 17-21, and will feature exhibits, demonstrations of construction and excavation equipment and practices, informative panel discussions, and keynote speakers including Susan O’Malley, the first female president of a professional sports franchise, and Major General John Gronski, U.S. Army (Retired).

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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