Exploding costs

A burned bicycle and other debris are strewn among the ruins of two homes on South Seventh Street that were destroyed in March by a natural gas explosion and related fire. So far, the city of Grand Junction has spent nearly $20,000 dealing with the effects of the disaster.

The city of Grand Junction has spent nearly $20,000 to date dealing with the effects of last month’s natural gas leak and explosion on North Seventh Street.

Nearly half of those funds, $8,993, were distributed in the form of hotel vouchers and grocery gift cards to residents in the evacuation zone when a contractor boring into the ground struck a natural gas line at Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue on March 19, causing a massive gas leak.

An ensuing explosion decimated the home at 1752 N. Seventh St. and triggered a fire that swiftly consumed the home immediately to the south at 1742 N. Seventh St.

The city spent $9,100 on traffic control in the evacuation zone and purchased vented manhole covers for $1,200 to allow the sewers to release the gas, according to emails The Daily Sentinel obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

According to city Risk Manager Dave Roper, more costs will trickle in, including overtime costs for fire and police workers, but the city will probably end up absorbing all the costs associated with the incident.

“On something like this, it depends on how you define the cost,” Roper said.

He said city officials decided to cover the cost of traffic control for days after the explosion because they didn’t think it was fair to ask the contractor working on the site, Grand Junction-based Apeiron Utility Construction, to pay for the unexpected and additional days the streets were closed.

Workers with Apeiron bore into the ground and apparently hit an unmarked gas line that supplied Colorado Mesa University.

Purchasing the manhole covers could be considered a streets cost, Roper said. Offering evacuated residents a place to stay and some money for groceries is part of being a good neighbor, he said.

Roper said the city doesn’t want to get into a legal battle over reimbursement of the costs with Xcel Energy, the area’s natural gas provider.

“We occasionally damage their utilities,” he said. “They do likewise.”

So far, there are no claims for damages against the city, Roper said.

City officials and the Grand Junction Fire Department are in the midst of compiling reports about their response to the explosion, which are expected to be released to the public.

Grand Junction’s insurance company, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, also has launched an investigation into the incident.

Although the idea is still in its infancy stage, city officials may consider adopting a new protocol that requires city staff to send a camera into the city’s utility lines directly after boring operations.

The goal is to determine whether the city’s sewer or water lines have been breached, said Greg Trainor, the city’s public works, utilities and planning director.

A breached water line is usually readily apparent as water often comes to the surface or shoots into the air. A sewer line break may take more time to discover.

“We’re trying to find out how many bores are going on in the course of a month or a week,” he said. “How practical is it for us to go out and check?”

In the meantime, city officials daily are checking the natural gas levels in the area of Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue.

Work on updating the traffic signal in the intersection is on hold until the city develops some sort of emergency notification system to alert nearby residents that work will resume.

For now, the signal is wired temporarily and is functioning, Trainor said.

“We need to make a decision whether we’ll do that on a workday or a weekend,” he said. “We want to notify property owners and make sure everyone knows what we are doing.”


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