Protecting Attleboro from gas leaks

To Attleboro residents:

Our City Council has been debating what to do with the finalized investigation into the Torrey Street gas leak last April. Kudos to City Councilor Ted Kobus for leading a careful, probing, and fair investigation. It resulted in a resolution that he wants to send on to the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Utilities (DPU).

It reads:

WHEREAS, on March 4, 1998, an explosion caused by a natural gas leak in the basement of a house on George Street in Attleboro killed two city workers and injured seven others; and

WHEREAS, on April 22, 2019, days before the natural gas leak was detected, the Attleboro Water Department fixed a water main break on Torrey Street; and

WHEREAS, on April 26, 2018, a car accident at 124 Emory Street helped officials detect a natural gas leak on Torrey Street resulting in three houses being evacuated; and

WHEREAS, (that same night) Columbia Gas discovered and fixed a grade one gas leak on Torrey Street which was venting natural gas from the street into the evacuated houses; and

WHEREAS, the Attleboro Municipal Council, in accordance with Section 2-11 of the Attleboro City Charter, initiated a charter investigation to identify what happened leading up to the evacuation of houses on Torrey Street on the night of April 26th to determine if there was anything the City could have done differently in order to identify the natural gas leak sooner; and

WHEREAS, the Municipal Council investigation indicated that during excavation on April 22nd, the Water Department hit a service line stub which Columbia Gas failed to mark. The incident appeared to have resulted in the natural gas leak which caused multiple homes to be evacuated on the evening of April 26, 2019, and

WHEREAS, the following risk mitigation measures were enacted by the Attleboro Water Department after the incident on Torrey Street:
1. Standard Operating Procedures updated to describe a requirement to call 911 when discovering an unmarked utility;
2. Dig-Safe training delivered by Columbia Gas;
3. New gas detection equipment purchased which will now be used on job sites; and

WHEREAS, having met the stated goals of the charter investigation, the investigation was concluded on August 22, 2019.

I am proud of the City Council and Councilor Kobus for this thorough and fair investigation. A potential disaster was resolved on April 26 by the excellent work of Attleboro’s fire and police departments, along with the work of Columbia Gas representatives at the scene of the accident.

I wish Columbia Gas would have attended the public hearing when the investigation was underway. Water Dept. Wunschel did testify and was very professional and co-operative. I believe she helped develop an improved standard operating procedure in the event of future gas leaks in Attleboro. Columbia Gas has informed the Council that there are 103 current gas leaks in Attleboro that are not dangerous at this time. There is a distinct possibility that an active gas leak could become dangerous in the future, however.

The City Council debated whether to forward our investigation to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. I strongly favor asking DPU to review Attleboro’s incident and the resulting investigation. I believe Rep. Jim Hawkins will assist Attleboro residents and the City Council in our effort to bring this investigation before the Department of Public Utilities.

The Council is trying our best to help protect Attleboro residents from future gas related incidents/accidents. In light of Attleboro’s past history with gas leaks and the recent Lawrence/Andover, North Andover leak….. we must push forward and bring our incident before the Department of Public Utilities. And we hopefully will have the co-operation of Columbia Gas in this effort.

The Water Department is NOT being blamed in this April 26 incident at Torrey Street. Far from it. But we must do everything we can to ensure your safety in the future.

Submitted on September 12, 2019 by Ty Waterman, City Councilor At-Large.

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