A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods

 

Seattle Times: Puget Sound Energy to pay $1.5 million fine for Greenwood gas explosion

March 29th, 2017 by Doree

The Seattle Times reports that Puget Sound Energy has settled for a $1.5 million fine with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission after last year’s devastating Greenwood gas explosion. You can read the Times’ full story here.

The UTC’s department of Pipeline Safety released a report last September saying the explosion was caused by an improperly decommissioned gas line that had been damaged by transients who used a narrow space between Neptune Coffee and Mr. Gyros to store their belongings. The UTC originally proposed a fine of $3.2 million.

The explosion happened in the middle of the night, while firefighters were on scene investigating a report of a possible natural gas leak. Nine firefighters were injured, but none seriously. Three businesses were destroyed and 50 more damaged. Adjacent G&O Family Cyclery’s building was too damaged to reopen (they’ve since reopened a block away at 8558 Greenwood Ave. N.), as was Insurrection Apparel (which works with clients by appointment elsewhere) Better Hearing Center (which moved to Oaktree Village), and Kouzina Greek restaurant, which said in January that its Zoey Catering was closing because the building was too damaged and it couldn’t find a new location. The Angry Beaver across the street was heavily damaged and took months to reopen. Dozens of other businesses’ damage ranged from a single broken window to serious structural damage.

Business owners held a press conference in January taking PSE to task for fighting the UTC’s proposed fine and claimed the company was not doing enough to help affected business owners, many of whom were having trouble getting reimbursed by their insurance companies.

Puget Sound Energy is in the process of checking that every decommissioned gas line in the state has been properly capped.

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Reminder: Greenwood Community Council meeting tonight will discuss business recovery and safety issues one year after natural gas explosion

March 21st, 2017 by Doree

Reminder: The Greenwood Community Council’s March meeting tonight will focus on reviewing the aftermath of the Greenwood natural gas explosion last year, recap the neighborhood’s recovery efforts, and discuss concerns over safety going forward.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. today (Tuesday) at Woodland Park United Methodist Church, 302 N. 78th St., in Fellowship Hall. (Note: The meeting is in a different location than usual, because the Greenwood Library is closed for renovations.)

A representative from the Phinney Neighborhood Association will talk about the results of the neighborhood’s fundraising efforts; Chaco Canyon owner Chris Maykut will discuss the ongoing recovery efforts of affected businesses; and a representative from Puget Sound Energy will discuss natural gas safety issues and whether our neighborhood is safer now.

The Council also will take nominations for its annual election of officers. The election will be at the April meeting.

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Greenwood Community Council meeting Tuesday will review safety in the wake of last year’s natural gas explosion

March 19th, 2017 by Doree

The Greenwood Community Council’s March meeting will focus on reviewing the aftermath of the Greenwood natural gas explosion last year, recap the neighborhood’s recovery efforts, and discuss concerns over safety going forward.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21, at Woodland Park United Methodist Church, 302 N. 78th St., in Fellowship Hall. (Note: The meeting is in a different location than usual, because the Greenwood Library is closed for renovations.)

A representative from the Phinney Neighborhood Association will talk about the results of the neighborhood’s fundraising efforts; Chaco Canyon owner Chris Maykut will discuss the ongoing recovery efforts of affected businesses; and a representative from Puget Sound Energy will discuss natural gas safety issues and whether our neighborhood is safer now.

The Council also will take nominations for its annual election of officers. The election will be at the April meeting.

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Puget Sound Energy talking natural gas safety with businesses, residents today, on 1-year anniversary of explosion

March 9th, 2017 by Doree

Two dozen Puget Sound Energy employees are talking about natural gas safety with Greenwood businesses and residents today on the one-year anniversary of the natural gas explosion that destroyed three businesses and damaged 50 more.

PSE has an information table set up inside the Greenwood Fred Meyer on NW 85th Street, and a tent in the parking lot at the corner of NW 85th Street and 1st Avenue NW, where employees are staging as they go out into the neighborhood.

PSE Vice President of Corporate Affairs Andy Wappler (in photo above, second from right) told me at 1 p.m. today that PSE employees had gone to every business within about a two-block radius of the intersection of NW 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North.

Starting at about 2 p.m., employees planned to fan out in teams of two to knock on residents’ doors within about a four-block radius, a total of about 400 homes. Employees will be wearing bright yellow/green jackets with the PSE logo.

PSE’s website has information on what to do if you think you detect a gas leak in your home or business.

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Puget Sound Energy representatives will discuss safety with residents and businesses tomorrow on the anniversary of the devastating natural gas explosion

March 8th, 2017 by Doree

Puget Sound Energy representatives will be in our neighborhood tomorrow providing safety information to residents and business — on the anniversary of the natural gas explosion that demolished three businesses and damaged another 50 in the heart of Greenwood.

Dom Amor, PSE local government affairs and public policy manager, and Wendy Weiker, PSE outreach manager for King County, attended the Phinney Neighborhood Association Business Group’s quarterly lunch today. Amor said PSE will be stepping up its partnership with the PNA, and plans to join the PNA Business Group to become more involved in the community.

PSE representatives will set up an information table in the Fred Meyer parking lot beginning around 10 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday), and will visit neighborhood businesses to discuss safety issues. Later in the afternoon, somewhere around 2-6 p.m., representatives will be walking neighborhood streets, checking in with homeowners about natural gas safety.

“We take this anniversary very seriously,” Weiker said. “This is kind of an all-hands-on-deck event. Safety is the bottom line.”

Amor said after the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s department of Pipeline Safety released its September report saying the explosion was the result of an improperly decommissioned gas line that was later damaged, PSE checked all other decommissioned lines in the neighborhood to make sure they had been properly decommissioned.

The UTC investigation is ongoing, with a settlement meeting scheduled for July 6.

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Businesses affected by last year’s natural gas explosion call Puget Sound Energy negligent and call for the utility to accept responsibility

January 25th, 2017 by Doree

Several business owners affected by last year’s natural gas explosion that destroyed two buildings, heavily damaged many others and sent nine firefighters to the hospital, are demanding that Puget Sound Energy accept responsibility and pay some kind of restitution.

The business owners gathered at Taproot Theatre, half a block from the explosion site, this morning for a press conference with Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

Eleni Ponirakis, owner of Kouzina/Zoey Catering, tears up as she announces her business will close after continuing insurance problems after being damaged in the March 9, 2016, natural gas explosion. She is surrounded by other business owners affected by the blast.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s department of Pipeline Safety announced in September that the explosion was caused by an improperly decommissioned gas line between two buildings, where a damaged threaded coupling above ground let natural gas accumulate until it was ignited. Pipeline Safety staff recommended a fine of up to $3.2 million. At the time PSE called the findings and proposed fine “disappointing and excessive.”

O’Brien said State Rep. Noel Frame, who lives in Greenwood, told him the state has scheduled another hearing with PSE in July.

Davey Oil, co-owner of G&O Family Cyclery, whose building was adjacent to the destroyed buildings and was too damaged to reoccupy, said he wants Puget Sound Energy to take responsibility and proactively check all its gas lines to make sure this doesn’t happen again – with deadly consequences.

“The blast only took two seconds to occur, but the real violence has been every day since,” Oil said. “Ten years prior (PSE) improperly decommissioned a gas pipe and they lost track of it. As a society, we need to know that our vital infrastructure is well secured, and is monitored for safety. We trust that someone has checked the brake lines on a speeding bus. We want to know that someone has checked the explosive gas lines that lead into our homes and our businesses. We have no choice but to have that trust.”

O’Brien said he’s spoken to PSE representatives several times, most recently yesterday to invite them to the press conference (the company did not send a representative), but that he believes the company is dragging its feet because it has the money and time to do so.

“We need to hold Puget Sound Energy accountable to make sure that every neighborhood is safe,” O’Brien said. “Some independent entity needs to watch over their shoulder to make sure that mistakes that happened here haven’t happened elsewhere.”

Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros and Greenwood Quick Stop were destroyed and have not reopened, although Mr. Gyros has locations in Ballard and Wallingford and regularly brings its food truck to the explosion site.

Meanwhile, other neighborhood business owners are still struggling to get insurance settlements, G&O has moved twice (first to a temporary location, now they’re about to open in a permanent location a block away), and Kouzina/Zoey Catering will be closing its doors for good in a week.

Kouzina owner Eleni Ponirakis said her insurance company paid her just $6,000 for the 10 days she was closed after the explosion, but refuses to pay relocation expenses. Her front door was unable to be used after the blast and she had to use the back door, but the kitchen was intact, so she continued to bake gluten-free foods for her catering customers, including Seattle Children’s, Evergreen Hospital and Victrola Coffee.

“We worked very hard to make sure our kitchen was properly set up for the gluten free…doing the right thing for our community, serving the right products,” Ponirakis said through tears. “When the gas explosion happened we didn’t think this is going to be the end for us. We were closed for almost two weeks. After that we were back and doing our wholesale and delivering to our customers.”

But after growing concerns about mold caused by explosion-related water damage in her back room, and unable to share an established kitchen because of cross contamination with gluten products, she concluded Kouzina had to shut down.

Part of the ceiling is falling down and black mold grows on the back wall of Kouzina/Zoey Catering, which was damaged in the March 9, 2016, natural gas explosion. Owner Eleni Ponirakis is at right.

Nikki Visel, marketing director at Taproot Theatre, encouraged people to call or email PSE President/CEO Kimberly Harris and demand that PSE pay the businesses restitution.

“Please tell her that unlike malls and big box businesses, in small neighborhood ecosystems part of what’s exciting is that the businesses are often indigenous to the neighborhood and are very unique. They’re also fragile,” Visel said.

Taproot didn’t sustain heavy damage, but the frames on four sets of entry doors were bent, preventing them from closing and locking properly. Staff had to scramble to figure out a way to keep patrons – especially the hundreds of children in its acting programs – safe.

Chris Maykut, owner of Chaco Canyon Organic Café directly across the street, said his business was luckier than most, “even though the inside of our storefront was completely blown in, all the windows broken; everything looked like it had been put through a blender,” he said. “I’m really outraged, not for myself, but for Eleni, for Davey, for all the businesses that have been affected, destroyed, displaced. We have a billion dollar corporation…and all they’re doing is looking at a piece of paper in a big office saying, hey, if we stonewall these guys, if we don’t accept responsibility, if we don’t admit guilt, even though a nonpartisan body has found us to be liable for this, then we might be able to save some money.”

M. Louise McKay of the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center directly across the street from the blast site, relocated its programs to the Phinney Neighborhood Center for several months, but its store – Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. – was closed for five months. The store’s profits support BFI’s programs, and BFI did not receive any kind of reimbursement for that. “We are disappointed by PSE’s inaction,” she said.

Oil encouraged people to support Greenwood’s small businesses.

“Puget Sound Energy’s negligence blew a hole in our dreams, but it doesn’t have to kill them,” Oil said.

Puget Sound Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on today’s press conference.

Update 3:20 p.m.: I spoke with PSE Spokesperson Christina Donegan, who said, “We know it’s been really tough for the whole neighborhood and especially for small businesses. Ultimately we are waiting for the process to fully play out. It takes time. We understand it’s a difficult time in the interim. Ultimately we’re about doing what’s right for safety and the businesses.”

She said the Utilities and Transportation Commission has a settlement hearing scheduled for July 6. Meanwhile, UTC and PSE are working to learn from this explosion and how to ensure high safety standards, especially regarding decommissioned pipes.

“How do you accurately analyze abandoned pipe? That’s what we’re working on with regulators right now because they want to make sure it’s done right too,” Donegan said.

She said 10 businesses filed claims against PSE, and seven of those have been resolved. The other three claims are “more complex.” She couldn’t tell me which businesses filed claims, but she did say claims could be for things like physical damage or to cover lost payroll.

“Again, we care about the community. We’re there; we serve the community. Those businesses are our customers too. I understand they may not feel that way right now, but ultimately we want to do what’s right.”

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National Weather Service warning of severe storm Thursday through Saturday

October 12th, 2016 by Doree

The National Weather Service says a huge storm is coming our way, left over from a typhoon in the Pacific. It’s expected to start raining tonight, with high winds and flooding rains starting tomorrow through Saturday. The NWS expects it to be “an impressively stormy period.”

So make sure you’re prepared for power outages, with extra batteries for flashlights, canned food, etc.

To report an outage to Puget Sound Energy, call 1-888-225-5773, and check out its Service Alert Map.

To report an outage to Seattle City Light, call 206-684-7400, and see its System Status Map.

Seattle Public Utilities is asking for help keeping storm drains clear of leaves and debris, to prevent street flooding.

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Property owner hopes to turn explosion site into the ‘living room of Greenwood’

September 20th, 2016 by Doree

The property owner of the site of the devastating March 9 natural gas explosion in downtown Greenwood says his company is planning to rebuild the site into “the living room of Greenwood.”

The blast destroyed Mr. Gyros, Neptune Coffee and Greenwood Quick Stop, and damaged another 50 surrounding businesses.

“We are 100 percent committed to rebuilding Greenwood,” Mike Slattery of Slattery Properties said at tonight’s Greenwood Community Council meeting.

With insurance dragging its feet, Slattery said his company is moving ahead anyway and has hired an architectural design firm to begin designing a mixed-use building that will cover the west side of Greenwood Avenue North between 84th street and the soon-to-open Flint Creek Cattle Co. restaurant on the corner of 85th (the restaurant plans to finally open Oct. 1.) The building that housed Better Hearing, Kouzina and Insurrection Apparel and Boots will be demolished.

Mike Slattery of Slattery Properties explains his company's plans for rebuilding the natural gas explosion site.

Mike Slattery of Slattery Properties explains his company’s plans for rebuilding the natural gas explosion site at the Sept. 20 Greenwood Community Council meeting. Photo courtesy of GCC.

Slattery said that before the explosion, his company planned to restore buildings on that block to look like Greenwood in the 1930s, taking cues from the Flint Creek building. They had done some work on roofs and windows, and were very excited to have Flint Creek sign a lease to turn the former antique store into an upscale restaurant.

Then came March 9.

“When you see your son calling at 3:30 in the morning, it ain’t good,” Slattery said. “He said the place is kindling and in pieces.”

It’s now been more than six months of cleaning up and dealing with insurance companies. With this morning’s Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission report that places blame for the explosion on Puget Sound Energy for failing to properly decommission a gas line attached to Mr. Gyros that was later damaged by transients, Slattery hopes the insurance money will start flowing.

“With the partial finger pointing to PSE, it strengthens our case,” he said.

Slattery said the plan now is for two levels of underground parking, ground floor retail of seven or eight small businesses, then apartments on top. He said the company will offer retail space to all seven businesses that were destroyed or displaced. (G&O Family Cyclery, which was next to Neptune Coffee, suffered extensive damage and has temporarily moved a block north.)

“We’re looking to do something that blends with the neighborhood, that will be a first-class project,” he said. “We’re hoping to make that retail presence the living room of Greenwood.”

He said the retail spaces will likely range from 600 to 1,200 square feet. He wants small, local businesses in there, not national chains, with outdoor seating, a green roof, and “having a belly full of PSE, we want to put as many solar panels on the roof as possible.”

The community will have opportunities to comment on the project once design gets officially underway.

Update Wednesday: Slattery Properties has applied for a permit with Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections to construct a 91,400 square foot building with 75 apartments, ground floor retail, and 70 parking spaces. The project will be subject to Early Design Guidance meetings (open to the public) and environmental review.

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Utilities and Transportation Commission’s Pipeline Safety finds Puget Sound Energy at fault for Greenwood explosion on March 9

September 20th, 2016 by Doree

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s department of Pipeline Safety released its report today on the cause of the March 9 natural gas explosion that destroyed three businesses in downtown Greenwood, damaged another 50, and injured nine firefighters. The UTC says Puget Sound Energy is at fault for failing to properly deactivate that gas line when it went out of service in 2004.

From the UTC report:

Staff finds that the immediate structural cause of the natural gas leak and explosion was external damage to a threaded coupling in the above-ground portion of the service line attached to the north-facing wall of the Mr. Gyros structure. The damage allowed natural gas to escape and to migrate into or under the Mr. Gyros structure, where it subsequently ignited.

Damage to the threaded coupling was likely caused by human activity. Post-incident interviews revealed that individuals used the narrow space between the Mr. Gyros and Neptune Coffee structures to store personal property. Interviewees acknowledged that they sometimes tripped on or bumped the service line. Staff did not determine whether the damage in this case was intentional.

Staff finds that the leak and explosion would not have occurred but for PSE’s improper abandonment of the service line in September 2004. Staff’s investigation revealed that the service line had not been “cut and capped” as documented by PSE’s contractor on Sept. 1, 2004. As a result of PSE’s improper abandonment, the service line remained operationally active until it was shut off after the explosion.

1. 49 C.F.R. § 192.727. PSE failed to abandon the service line in accordance with federal standards (one violation, maximum $200,000 penalty).

2. WAC 480-93-180 and 49 C.F.R. § 192.13(c). PSE failed to follow its internal pipeline deactivation plan (one violation, maximum $200,000 penalty).

3. WAC 480-93-188. PSE failed to perform annual leak surveys of the active service line (11 violations, maximum $2,000,000 penalty).

4. 49 C.F.R. § 192.481. PSE failed to perform atmospheric corrosion tests of the active service line at least once every three years (three violations, maximum $600,000 penalty).

5. 49 C.F.R. § 192. PSE failed to perform external corrosion tests of the active service line at least once every 10 years (one violation, maximum $200,000 penalty).

UTC staff is asking the Commission to fine Puget Sound Energy a total of $3,200,000.

You can see the Commission’s Staff Investigation Report and complaint against Puget Sound Energy here.

Update 12:40 p.m.: Michael Slattery of Slattery Properties, which owns that entire block of Greenwood Avenue North between North 84th and 85th streets where the explosion happened, was happy to hear the cause had finally been determined.

“It confirms our suspicion that Puget Sound Energy was at fault all along,” Slattery said. “We’re sorry we had to all go through this. It’s been a long process. It shouldn’t have taken that long to come up with the result. We’re hoping that Puget Sound Energy will stand up and take responsibility and offer an apology to us and the entire neighborhood. So far they’ve done nothing.”

Slattery spoke to me as he was heading to work with the painters at Flint Creek Cattle Company, on the corner of 85th and Greenwood. Flint Creek had been working to open the new restaurant when the damage from the explosion delayed those plans. The restaurant is now very close to opening.

Slattery will be at tonight’s Greenwood Community Council meeting at 7 p.m. at the Greenwood Library, 8016 Greenwood Ave. N., where he will give an update on his company’s plans for rebuilding the explosion site.

“We want to be part of the community,” he said. “We want to rebuild the community.”

Update: 12:45 p.m.: I’ve left messages for PSE spokesman Andy Wappler and will update this post when I hear back. PSE’s Twitter feed says they are reviewing the report.

Update 12:50 p.m.: Puget Sound Energy has posted this response on its website:

Our response to UTC Greenwood report

(9/20/16) The proposed fine from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) staff is disappointing and excessive.

All parties investigating the March incident, including the UTC and the Seattle Fire Department, agree: the natural gas system at the Greenwood site was damaged by unauthorized individuals in a space not intended for human activity, with the resulting gas leak causing the explosion and fire.

While we disagree with the UTC staff’s conclusions and recommended fine, we’re committed to the safety of our customers and the community and will continue to review the report as we prepare for final disposition of this investigation by the UTC commissioners.

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