City praises its actions in gas leak, explosion
Grand Junction’s response to the natural gas explosion on North Seventh Street last month prioritized public safety, according to a recently released internal report.
The March 19 incident in which three people were injured and two homes were destroyed after a contractor nicked an underground, medium-sized natural gas line will also be used as a learning experience, the report stated.
“It was clear from the start that safety was our No. 1 concern,” Grand Junction City Manager Rich Englehart said during the report’s presentation at a meeting earlier this week. “We did what was right. There were a lot of solutions.”
One of those solutions was quickly obtaining a large, explosion-proof industrial fan to displace the natural gas in the area, Englehart said. Offering displaced residents vouchers to temporarily stay at pet-friendly hotels also was heralded as a good move. The city was transparent and swift in its communication efforts with affected residents and the public by staffing a command center and holding news conferences to help the media spread the news, the report stated.
Last week’s report is the first of several the city will produce. The Grand Junction Fire Department is expected to release a report on its response, much like officials did with their response to the White Hall fire. Also, the city’s insurance company, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, is investigating the incident and expected to release a report.
City Attorney John Shaver said at the meeting that the city should not be solely cited in any lawsuits, though the city probably will be listed as one of a number of defendants in lawsuits.
“The city’s approach was very good at the time of the incident,” Shaver said. “There is nothing that we could have or should have done differently. At this point the city is very well-protected.”
City officials will continue to monitor gas levels in the area until levels are recorded at less than 1 percent, said Greg Trainor, the city’s public works, utilities and planning director.
Levels had ranged from 30 percent to 50 percent as of a week ago but dropped to 5 percent or less all of last week, Trainor said. Construction work will not resume in the area until gas levels register at 1 percent or less, he said.
In an effort to calm neighbors’ concerns, the city won’t finish work on replacing the traffic signal at Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue until late summer or early fall.
Construction work starting in June to replace sewer lines on Orchard Avenue from Seventh Street to Cannell Avenue won’t include boring. It will be prefaced with an open house and plenty of community outreach, city officials said.
“It’s very important in my mind to let residents get comfortable and not panic,” Trainor said. “We’ll be working with police, fire and 911 to let them know.”