The Disaster on 7th Street South

2024 Meeting Schedule

Normally meetings alternate between
Alice West Fleet Elementary Library
and the
Public Montessori School of Arlington Library.
Meetings start at 7:00 PM.

Please check the newsletter for details.

A private company, E-Spire Communications, applied for and received a digging permit from Arlington County to install 7" plastic tubing (conduit) all over the county to house fiber optic cable. They obtained the permit at no cost.

To install conduit along 7th Street South between Walter Reed and Glebe roads, E-Spire subcontracted to Fischel Construction, who used using a method called directional boring. This method involves a machine that drills a tunnel underground without having to cut up sidewalks and roads.

Before beginning excavation, neither the County, nor E-Spire, nor Fischel contacted any of the adjacent property owners. Their excavation damaged several lawns. On Friday, January 22, their digging flooded two basements at 3007 and 3115 7th Street South with sewage. Then, on Tuesday, January 26, at about 4:30 pm, they caused a gas main break. 30 houses and Patrick Henry Elementary School were evacuated.


Richard White, of 3115 7th Street South, provided these photos:

Emergency Meeting

On Tuesday night, February 4, 1999, Arlington Heights Civic Association held an emergency adhoc-meeting at the Career Center. Joe Nichols of Arlington County and 18 ACHA members attended. We discussed the County's responsibilities, the contractors' responsibilities and liabilities, legal options for homeowners who suffered damages, and next steps.

Post-Meeting Follow Up

Mary Ellen Finn reports:

"I spoke with Dennis Johnson, Arlington County Engineer and Joe Nichols' boss, about last night's meeting. He had already met with Joe, but we went over the points anyway:

  1. The construction companies have lied to the county about contacts with the neighborhood.
  2. They have made repairs to lateral sewer lines without permits and without inspections, and we are not satisfied with the quality of these repairs. (He said Joe was going to get the plumbing inspector to review this case.)
  3. The revised safety plan letter does nothing to protect homeowner lateral sewer line damage, only talks of additonal safety procedures for main utilities. Therefore, we are concerned that they do not know where the boring is (depth), and we would like to see better technology used, if available. We see inevitable multiple problems if the current technology continues to be used.
  4. The companies have not been responsive to homeowners regarding reclaiming the costs of clean-up, landscaping, etc. We want the name of an insurance company and a claims adjuster, so we can file a claim. We were having Richard White contact Al Eisenberg with the request to help us get this name. (Mr. Johnson said that getting this info was a top priority for them, and that they would send the info to me.)
  5. If we do not get a name and a clear procedure, we see them as being in violation of their permit and we think the permit should be pulled until they comply. (He seemed open to this possibility.)
  6. Concern regarding lack of homeowner warning during gas leak evacuation. (He was going to talk to the fire department about this.)
  7. We were concerned that this drilling was going on while we were at work, and we were uncomfortable that a county rep was not on site. (He said that they have someone to give Dennis temporary help. We discussed the possibility of the cost of this being added to permit costs in the future, and he felt this could be done.)
  8. We suggested that future permits be issued in pieces. (He liked this idea, and wished they had done this for this one. In the future they will look for natural stopping points to break-up the permit.)
  9. Mr. Johnson said that in the future, they will send us all relevant documents by e-mail.

I thanked him for sending Joe Nichols, told him that he had been responsive and helpful, and that we looked forward to continued support for and from them. I mentioned that we would send a letter thanking Joe for coming. He was appreciative."

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Ellen Finn

Contact the following for more information:

Mary Ellen Finn, AHCA Vice President, 703-521-3217
Meade Jones-Hanna, 703-685-2053


Some lawns and utility strips along 7th Street South have been regraded and reseeded, but much work remains to be done. We thank Dennis Johnson, Arlington County Construction Permit Supervisor, for his help. Homeowners with compliants about E-Spire's and Fishel's performance should contact Mr. Johnson.

Dennis Johnson wrote us a letter responding to our questions at the AHCA meeting April 20.

Joseph F. Nichols, Arlintgon County Construction Manager, wrote three letters, (1) to Jay Wind, President, AHCA, recognizing AHCA's concerns, and (2, 3) to Mike Knouse, E-Spire Communications, ordering E-Spire to Stop Work, and allowing E-Spire to resume work under specified conditions

According to Mary Ellen Finn, another company has gotten a permit to drill and lay fiber optic cable. Joe Nichols said that a company named Fibernet will begin at 8th street South and go North along Fillmore until they reach Wilson Blvd., through Lyon Park) They will start on the west side of the street (Arlington Heights) but somewhere between 5th street south and 2nd street south will move to the east side (Central Arlington).

They will not go as deep, and because of all the trouble we have had on 7th street, may use open pit digging and not directional boring. Starting time is unknown, but they should post signs and alert the neighbors. Other neighborhood association presidents should contact Joe Nichols and Fibernet before they start work and make your presence known.

We are not alone. The Washington Post ran an article on July 6, 1999,  "A Nation Plugged In and Dug Up."