BGE, residents to discuss fuel woes

Westminster neighbors near sinkhole smell gas

Isabel outages also on agenda

November 03, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Westminster residents who say they have continued to smell gas months after a sinkhole in their neighborhood disrupted utility services will have a chance to discuss their concerns tonight with representatives of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

BGE representatives say they will also take questions about the utility's response to problems in the wake of Tropical Storm Isabel at the 7 p.m. meeting at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department on John Street.

Westminster Councilman Robert Wack, along with Councilman Tom Ferguson, organized the meeting.

"We want to allow citizens to have direct access to BGE without middlemen and recordings," Wack said. "We want to make sure we give them a clear and accurate picture of what's going on."

According to the councilmen, sporadic power outages and periodic gas odors were reported in the neighborhood bounded by New Windsor Road and Chase, Main and Anchor streets before the sinkhole incident in July.

The sinkhole and road collapse at Anchor and Green streets, which disrupted gas and water service to about 50 homes, "got everyone's attention with the concern over leaking gas lines in general," Ferguson said.

Anchor Street residents Rick and Rose Blizzard said they have called BGE on several occasions to report the odor of gas since then.

Ann Thomas, who lives on Chase Street about two blocks from the sinkhole, said she, too, smelled gas on Anchor Street when she was walking her dog recently and called the utility company to report it.

Tom Valenti, BGE's manager of gas engineering, maintenance and construction, said the utility company takes reports of gas leaks seriously and responds immediately to the sites to evaluate the situation.

After looking at the maintenance history of the Westminster neighborhood, "there was nothing unusual out there," Valenti said, noting that BGE conducts other checks to ensure that the infrastructure is in working condition.

When the sinkhole broke two main gas arteries at the intersection, repair crews capped four mains and restored service to customers by rerouting some pipelines, Valenti said.

The company needs to make permanent repairs, which are expected to start within a few weeks, he said.

"We did not want to place a main across the sinkhole area until we were sure that the city was satisfied that they completed their backfilling and [that the asphalt] wasn't going to move anymore," he said.

The meeting is also expected to cover BGE's response to Tropical Storm Isabel, which left 790,000 of its 1.1 million residential and business customers in Baltimore and Central Maryland without power.

In Carroll County, about half of the utility's 52,000 customers were left in the dark at the height of the storm, and some were without power for as long as five days, according to BGE.

Mike Fowler, a senior government relations representative for BGE who will attend the meeting, said the company's consumer reliability management unit is evaluating the electrical infrastructure in the neighborhood surrounding the sinkhole area.

Fowler said he will make a presentation on the utility company's preparations for Isabel - which included calling up 6,400 in-house and outside repair workers - as well as measures to prevent outages during severe storms, such as spending $19 million on tree trimming this year.

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