• Royal Oak lawmaker seeks best way to replace aging pipeline

    Daily Tribune

    State Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) is calling on utility companies, cities and the Michigan Public Service Commission to work together to determine the best way to replace more than 3,100 miles of aging iron pipes carrying natural gas across Michigan.

    A Feb. 27 explosion that killed a Royal Oak man, destroyed one home and damaged 30 others was caused by a leaking gas line following replacement work by a Consumers Energy crew.

    “It was a terrible tragedy that may have been prevented,” Townsend said. “The important thing now is that we take every possible precaution within our reach to prevent something like this from happening again.”

    As investigators try to understand exactly how the explosion on Cooper Avenue happened, Townsend said it is known that 3,153 miles of pipes deliver natural gas to Michigan homes and businesses and many sections are at risk of corrosion, cracking and rupturing.

    Townsend said his recent appointment as vice chair of the house oversight committee could be an avenue to open a dialogue about the state’s pipelines and procedures to replace them.

    “We have to ask the questions: Are we doing enough to repair the lines and are we doing it safely,” he said. “Certain procedures weren’t followed (in Royal Oak) and that led to a line being punctured as they bored holes to put in the replacement line.”

    Townsend said he will work with all the parties involved to define best practices and possibly draft new regulations to prevent more disasters like the one in Royal Oak.

    “The owners of these pipelines, responsible agencies and contractors must be held accountable when the lines are allowed to age, leak and cause catastrophes or safety standards are not met,” he said.

    Consumers Energy accepted responsibility for the Royal Oak explosion the day after the blast rocked south Oakland County and leveled the house of the victim, 58-year-old Daniel Malczynski. His dog also was killed.

    The utility announced March 15 that it had fired several of the workers.

    “In the end it is the personal responsibility of employees to follow procedures,” utility spokesperson Debra Dodd said. “That is why employees were terminated – for not following proper procedures. If they had, we don’t believe that would have occurred.”

    Consumers Energy is involved with industry organizations like the American Gas Association and the Common Ground Alliance to stay on top of procedures to protect public safety, the environment and the reliability of utility services, Dodd added.

    “We use the best practices,” she said.

    Dodd also said the natural gas line on Cooper Avenue, which dated back to 1929, wasn’t being replaced because it was too old.

    “The age of the pipeline doesn’t denote its condition,” she said. “We replaced the line on Cooper because the city was coming through with a project. When a municipality tells us its plan, it is best to work in conjunction. That lessens the amount of digging and hassles to the people who live there.”

    Royal Oak’s interim city engineer, Matt Callahan, said the city was going to use federal funds from the Community Development Block Grant program to resurface Cooper Avenue from Nakota to Normandy streets starting this week.

    “That project has been scrapped because of the investigation taking place,” Callahan said.

    The city and utility have tried to coordinate their schedules for years.

    “They told us to be aware of pipes in the ground that are 40-90 years old and that they have a program to replace them,” Callahan said. “We tell them where we will be working in a calendar year. If they intend to replace a gas line on one of the streets, they can do it before we make expensive improvements that would have to be dug up.”

    An upcoming collaboration will occur on Pleasant Avenue south of 11 Mile Road. Consumers Energy is expected to replace two natural gas lines that date back to 1910 while the city installs a new 8-inch water main.

    Related Story: Michigan a leader in outdated gas lines

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