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Liberty Underground Keeps Utility Work Free From Worry

Tue March 06, 2007 - Northeast Edition
Laurie Mercer



Partners Andy Simpson, Jim Burkhardt, and Bruce Devlin founded Liberty Underground of Livonia, N.Y., in 2000 in order to become the “go-to” guys whenever people need to put new utilities into the ground or when someone or something damages an existing underground facility.

While the name “Liberty” is patriotic, it also serves as a metaphor for exactly who owns or is responsible for what happens underground.

Sometimes it’s a free for all down there. Just a few of the things found underground in modern society include: communication facilities (other than telephone), chemicals, cable television, electrical power, fire signals, gas, high-pressure water (100 psig or more), petroleum, petroleum products (naptha, gasoline, kerosene, and similar things), sewer, and steam.

When things go wrong, there’s a lot at stake.

For Liberty Underground, just taking care of the gas and electric sector and telecommunications keeps it sufficiently busy to be enjoying a continual growth spurt.

It does not do private work. Liberty quickly grew from three partners to include 50 employees.

“At Liberty Underground, we’ve been very fortunate. We have never caused an accidental major underground utility break. In fact, we’ve become the company people call for emergency dig outs,” added Simpson.

Recently, Liberty has received the largest contract it has ever had, which was from Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E). Liberty also supports Frontier Communications, a local telephone company.

While Frontier uses Liberty in emergencies, RG&E prefers to use Liberty for new digs, and its own crews for emergencies.

“In America today the typical subdivision in every home has cable TV, telephone, gas, electric, and even underground fencing for pets,” said Simpson.

“When we go in to dig, the first thing we think about is safety, and the second is the quality of our work, which means not damaging the site,” he added.

Simpson said Liberty tries to make personal contact with each homeowner when the site work is in a neighborhood. If residents are not at home, Liberty leaves a door hanger letting them know when and where the excavation work will be done.

“We get very few complaints,” said Simpson.

But if a homeowner has real concerns, they will find each of the three partners’ cell telephone numbers on the door hanger. There is no “flack catcher” in the middle. Some residents do express concerns about underground digs on or near their property.

Simpson said that by giving residents advance notice and treating them courteously, they have few complaints, although people have had attorneys draw up legal papers to be signed first by Liberty Underground just in case something does go wrong on the excavation and restoration.

Recently the company made a significant investment in new equipment.

Kevin Tremmel, the sales contact that brokered the most recent equipment sale for Admar Supply Company, Rochester, sold Liberty seven Kubota excavators, including three of them in one month.

The Kubota units purchased by Liberty include: KX-41 (two units), KX-61m. KX-91, KX-121 (two units), and KX-161.

Excavators, self-propelled crawlers, defy the heavy equipment maxim that being bigger is better; more often the reverse seems to be true.

Devlin explained the company’s choice of the new Kubotas by saying, “The mini-excavator is doing what backhoes used to do, yet they are compact enough to be towed behind a pick up. For tighter spaces, the operators like them, and we found that breakdowns are few.”

Burkhardt said the partners recognize a need for new equipment when “we are shuffling equipment around too much, and when we rent equipment for more than a couple months.”

He said using Admar for purchasing equipment was a natural fit.

“We like the service, and we got along with the people; they were willing to work with us.”

Kubota, he said, had “good incentives for interest.”

Liberty Underground customers typically require a certain finesse that comes with experience when it comes to a quality job underground.

Having the right-size equipment to meet the task is partially responsible for how quickly it does the work.

“For example,” Burkhardt said, “on a recent job the customer needed 6,000 feet of 12-inch steel put underground with a cover of three feet to seven feet, depending on the area. For us, the Kobuta 121 and Kobuta 161 did the entire excavation and backfill, performing as a critical part of this three-month-long project.”

A more typical project might be exposing telephone cable near a small mall in order for repairs to be made to the cable.

“For us, each piece of equipment has a purpose,” he added. “We need both backhoes and mini-excavators so we don’t cause an increased need for restoration work.”

Like everything else they do, the guys at Liberty Underground put a lot of thought behind the name of their company. The name serves as a double entendre in that anything you do in excavation is considered “underground.”

“We are proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said one of the partners, speaking for all three men. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that the work is done properly.”

All together the three Liberty Underground partners represent 75 years of experience in excavation and restoration of underground sites. CEG