GPA: Why blame us for DUI accidents?

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

THE Guam Power Authority yesterday opposed a bill that seeks to hold the agency liable for accidents involving vehicles crashing into power poles.

“Why blame GPA? Where is the driver’s personal responsibility in this legislation? This bill’s intent seems to be to protect those who drive irresponsibly by passing their irresponsibility off on to GPA,” Joaquin Flores, GPA’s assistant general manager for operations, testified at yesterday’s public hearing of Bill 110.

The bill, authored by Sen. Jesse A. Lujan (R-Tamuning) would allow victims to sue GPA for punitive damages for injuries or death resulting from accidents.

Flores said the ratepayers would ultimately shoulder the liability if the bill is enacted into law.

“While the Department of Public Works bears the overall responsibility for approving road construction design and specifications, as well as exemptions thereto, the Guam Power Authority benefits materially by avoiding responsibility for mitigating hazards posed by its installations maintained within the public right of way,” the bill states.

“The power poles have become a safety hazard. Combine speed, drunk driving with these poles, it becomes a killer. Most of those killed in car accidents are those who crashed into the power poles,” said Sen. Mike Cruz (R-Piti), co-author of the bill.

Lujan said that seeing people getting killed in car accidents because of the unmitigated road hazards “is like imposing a death sentence on them.”

“There are cases in the U.S. where the power agencies were held liable for power pole accidents,” Lujan said.

Sen. Bob Klitzkie, (R-Yigo) said Bill 110 should be re-titled “Every Driver is Entitled to A Safe Highway Act,” a takeoff from his Bill 1 titled “Every Child is Entitled to Adequate Public Education Act.”

But Flores countered that “road hazard is outside of our business. We are in the business of providing power,” he added.

Graham Botha, GPA’s legal counsel, said that as it is now, GPA is barely making enough money to keep itself afloat. If the agency is held accountable for vehicular accidents, the cost of the litigation would be offset by higher power rates, which means that that the ratepayers would ultimately shoulder the cost.

Randy Weigand, GPA’s chief finance officer, said outing the liability on GPA “will not solve our problem.”

Flores said what GPA needs from the Legislature is funding assistance to enable the agency to complete its underground power lines installation projects.

“GPA already has plans to place power lines under ground in key areas around the island. However, we anticipate that conversion of the entire power system to an underground system will take 10 to 15 years,” Flores said.

Flores also said GPA is currently using a $20 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for certain power line projects. The grant was awarded to help Guam rebuild infrastructure and facilities destroyed by Typhoon Pongsona.

He explained that the FEMA fund is intended only for power line projects “dedicated to typhoon-mitigation.” The FEMA grant does not cover the conversion of power poles that are considered a road hazard, Flores added.



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