EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 10, 2014

Contractor, gas company trade accusations over natural gas pipe break

ANDOVER — The state Department of Public Utilities is investigating who is at fault for rupturing a high-pressure natural gas line that left hundreds of people without gas and electricity for hours on Thursday and Friday while potentially endangering an entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the contractor that was digging up the street is trading accusations with Columbia Gas over whether the underground pipe was marked accurately on the pavement, as required by law.

“The gas main was absolutely not marked correctly,” said Mike Saccone, president of MDR Construction Co. Inc. of Tewksbury. “If it was marked correctly, we certainly wouldn’t have hit it.”

Columbia Gas spokeswoman Andrea Luppi said on Thursday that the gas line was properly marked. Yesterday, she reiterated that stance, but added that ultimately the state Department of Public Utilities, or DPU, would decide.

“The DPU was on site,” she said. “I’m sure they are going to do a thorough investigation. I can’t add anything to that except that I’m sure they are going speak with the contractor.”

The gas break was first reported at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday by a firefighter directing traffic at a detour on River Road. A section of the road has been closed roughly from 9-5 since Monday, and may be closed for another three to four weeks, while MDR installs a sewer line extension to a new subdivision off River Road.

An employee working for MDR was digging a 17-foot-deep trench for the gravity-fed sewer line when he struck the 6-inch, plastic, high-pressure line. The line carries 99 pounds per square inch of pressurized natural gas which is distributed to houses in the area.

When the pipe was hit it left a hole about the size of a half-dollar, according to Saccone. But it was large enough to send a 20-foot high geyser of natural gas and debris into the air for nearly four hours. Columbia Gas had trouble fixing the leak because a valve near the break was covered with asphalt, Luppi said Thursday.

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