Local News

Cary Officials, Contractor to Discuss Gas Line Rupture

Posted December 28, 2007 10:46 a.m. EST
Updated December 28, 2007 6:15 p.m. EST

— Town officials plan to meet next month with a contractor to discuss an October gas line rupture that exploded into a fireball, forcing the evacuation of businesses and the closure of a major intersection.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission issued a 72-page report Thursday that found PSNC Energy, which owns the underground gas line, properly marked the path of the line above ground.

Preliminary findings issued by Cary officials two weeks after the Oct. 10 incident stated that PSNC failed to mark the line before Fulcher Electric Co., a subcontractor on a road widening project, drilled a hole for a new traffic signal at the intersection of Kildaire Farm and Tryon roads.

A Fulcher Electric crew punctured the 8-inch line, and escaping gas ignited, sending flames shooting more than 100 feet into the air. The gas burned for about six hours before PSNC crews were able to cap the line.

The incident caused $285,955 in damage, including lost gas and a Fulcher Electric truck, according to the state report.

Cary officials estimated the town's damage costs at about $52,000, and they said they hope the January meeting with general contractor Rea Contracting can help resolve how to pursue possible restitution.

"The citizens of Cary should not have to pay for an expense they're not responsible for. Just who pays for it and how much they pay is still to be determined," Cary spokeswoman Susan Moran said.

Janet Serotta, who owns a clothing store in the Waverly Place shopping center at the intersection, said she likely will have to absorb the cost of business she lost the day of the gas line rupture because she had to close early and evacuate the area.

"I'm sure we did lose some business that day, (but) I'm not sure how much," Serotta said.

The Utilities Commission report didn't assess blame for the incident, but investigators noted a series of yellow marks across Tryon Road were in line with the hole the Fulcher Electric crew drilled and a faded mark on Kildaire Farm Road also was in the same line.

An on-site meeting between the Fulcher Electric Crew and PSNC managers could have averted the rupture by narrowing down possible excavation locations, the report said.

Investigators also said in the report that Fulcher Electric didn't wait the required 48 hours after asking PSNC to mark the line before drilling.

“We appreciate the work by the Utilities Commission and the perspective it adds to our review of the incident,” Cary Town Manager Bill Coleman said in a statement. “The findings will be an important part of future discussions we have with Rea Contracting."

Work to install the traffic signal at the Kildaire Farm Road and Tryon Road intersection is expected to start again in January after on-site meetings are held and underground utilities are excavated, Coleman said. Rea will continue as the general contractor on the job, and the company will decide whether Fulcher will work on the project.

“Rea has been a very good contractor for the town, and we believe it’s in the community’s best interest to keep them in place and the project moving forward,” he said. “I am confident that everyone involved is paying especially close attention to the details surrounding their work and that safety is the No. 1 priority.”