Kansas City's permit process under fire after JJ's explosion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Other contractors are digging up Kansas City pavement and sidewalks before getting an approved excavation permit from city hall, a 41 Action News investigation found.

The issue surfaced in the wake of last month's deadly fire at JJ's Restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.

The contractor hired to dig near the restaurant, Heartland Midwest, did not have an approved permit.

However, 41 Action News later obtained emails showing the company had submitted the paperwork two weeks earlier, but city officials had lost it.

41 Action News submitted an open-records request for copies of other recently-approved excavation permits.

There were 27 telecommunications-related excavation permits to lay fiberoptic cable for companies like AT&T and Time Warner.

Out of those, more than half of the applications listed work scheduled to begin prior to receiving an approved permit from Kansas City.

41 Action News found five permit applications submitted in January with work anticipated to begin that same month. However, they all were not approved until March 4, a couple of days after the open-records request.

Jim Jacobe, of TSI Engineering, confirmed he had finished boring holes for the Main Street bridge over I-670 back in mid-January. His permit was not approved until March 4.

Since Google Fiber announced it was coming to Kansas City, permit fees have been waived for other telecommunications companies to do similar work.

Heartland Midwest had been hired by Time Warner Cable to dig near JJ's Restaurant.

An attorney representing Heartland Midwest, Brad Russell, told 41 Action News the city's approach to permits has become more lax.

"After Google and that relationship started and they changed the issue of permit payments, that is sort of the pattern and practice that developed with the city at that point in time," Russell said.

About half of the permits reviewed by 41 Action News required fees. Many of those permits were approved the same day they were received.

Russell and other companies told 41 Action News that permits are more about accountability than safety. They pointed to the marking of utility lines as much more crucial to preventing accidents.

"The purpose of a permit is to provide the city notice of who is working on their property and who may be altering their property, so they can be sure that any changes are fixed to their satisfaction," Russell said.

41 Action News asked about its permit findings, but is still awaiting response from city hall.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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