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


Utilities and Transportation Commission fines Puget Sound Energy a record $2.75 million for 2016 Greenwood gas explosion

June 19th, 2017 by Doree

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission today approved a settlement agreement that imposes the highest penalty ever on Puget Sound Energy for the 2016 Greenwood gas explosion that leveled three businesses and damaged another 50.

The main penalty is $1.5 million, with another $1.25 million in penalties if PSE doesn’t complete a comprehensive gas pipeline inspection and remediation program by agreed upon deadlines.

In September, the UTC found PSE at fault for the explosion, saying the utility’s contractor had improperly deactivated that gas line, which was then damaged by people who used the tiny space between two buildings to store their belongings and subsequently damaged the pipe. Nine firefighters were injured in the explosion.

According to today’s settlement agreement:

The complaint alleged five violations related to improper deactivation of a pipeline and failure to perform periodic gas leak surveys and corrosion tests as required by pipeline safety regulations. PSE did not contest the five violations.

The compliance program requires PSE to identify, inspect, and remediate more than 40,000 retired service lines, categorized as follows:

  • Group 1: Within 18 months, complete initial inspections on all 3,060 service lines retired by PSE’s contractor between 2000-2010 located in business districts.
  • Group 2: Within 24 months, complete initial inspections on a sample of 6,578 service lines for the 10,907 locations retired by PSE’s contractor between 2000-2010 that serve high occupancy structures, prioritizing schools, public buildings, and hospitals.
  • Group 3: Within 36 months complete initial inspections on a sample of 3,263 service lines for the 15,131 locations retired prior to 2000 that may have served high occupancy structures, prioritizing schools, public buildings, and hospitals.
  • Group 4: Within 36 months complete initial inspections on a sample of 3,069 service lines for the 11,691 locations retired after 2010 that may have served high occupancy structures, prioritizing schools, public buildings, and hospitals.

If the company discovers an active gas line in the sample from Groups 2-4, PSE must inspect all locations within that group and file an amended compliance plan with the commission.

PSE also agrees to evaluate active, above-ground service pipes as part of their regular inspection process with an enhanced focus on pipes susceptible to external damage, including tampering or vandalism.

The settlement also requires PSE to review its standards and practices related to deactivating service lines and implement employee training on any changes.

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Seattle Times: Greenwood firefighter suing PSE over injuries from March 2016 natural gas explosion

May 16th, 2017 by Doree

The Seattle Times reports that Firefighter Jeff Markoff, one of nine firefighters injured in the massive natural gas explosion that destroyed three businesses and damaged another 50 in downtown Greenwood on March 9, 2016, is suing Puget Sound Energy for lingering health issues related to the blast.

In September, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission’s Department of Pipeline Safety released a report saying PSE’s contractor failed to properly decommission that gas line in 2004, and proposed a fine of $3.2 million.

In March, PSE and UTC proposed a settlement of $1.5 million. UTC commissioners discussed the settlement at a meeting yesterday in Olympia, but likely won’t make a decision until this summer.

PSE is now in the process of inspecting 40,000 retired natural gas service lines to make sure they were properly decommissioned.

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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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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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