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Gas leak won’t delay Elm Street completion

July 23, 2014 | Chris Maza

After a gas leak created by a piece of equipment striking an unmarked structure was remedied on July 18, construction crews have been able to continue work, such as the replacement of a failing culvert, pictured here, and remain on schedule to complete the project by August.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – While the natural gas leak that occurred during the reconstruction of Elm Street on July 18 was an unforeseen hurdle, it’s not one that will have a significant effect on the project’s schedule, according to Department of Public Works Superintendent Robert Peirent.

The leak, which was caused when a reclamation machine struck a utility structure, shut down the construction site and required the evacuation of several homes in the area, but there were no injuries or loss of property, the DPW, Police and Fire departments all confirmed.

“The biggest impact was the inconvenience to the residents, specifically those who had to be evacuated, plus there was the inconvenience to residents of having to have their pilots relighted,” Peirent said. “[The leak] slowed the reclamation portion of the project by about half a day, Losing half a day on the reclaiming activities should in no way set the overall project back.”

The project, when completed, would represent a complete rebuild of one of the town’s main thoroughfares, connecting Cooley Street in Springfield to the rotary. The multi-phase project is expected to be completed later this summer and will also include sidewalk and traffic signal improvements. The DPW also replaced a 42-inch steel culvert that crosses Elm Street south of Mapleshade Avenue that Peirent said was more than 50 years old and failing due to heavy corrosion.

Peirent explained the project was able to remain on schedule in spite of the gas issue because of communication between his department and the public, specifically through the town’s website and Facebook page, as well as the community’s cooperation.

“It was key to get the word out there and keep getting the word out there,” he said. “The cooperation of the residents staying off of Elm Street during the daytime has been a big factor.”

During the reclamation portion of the project, the road is essentially rototilled with the intention of utilizing that material as part of the base for the new road. While it was originally believed that the equipment struck the gas main on July 18, Peirent said it was later discovered that it was in fact a small tube attached to the main that was damaged. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts marked the main, but the smaller utility feature was not.

“Anytime you’re working with underground utilities, there is a certain amount of uncertainty,” he said. “We and Columbia Gas go through great lengths to avoid these occurrences. There was considerable time put in to finding and marking these utilities. In fact, at the location where reclamation was occurring, the machine was operating at 12 inches instead of 16 inches to stay above the main itself. However, sometimes there are features below grade that aren’t known to exist.”

Police Sgt. Patrick Manley said the machine operator immediately recognized that he hit the structure, shut down the equipment and notified police officers overseeing traffic flow in the area.

“Because there were traffic officers on scene, the response to the leak was immediate,” he said. “The officers had direct communication with the dispatcher and therefore the proper response protocols were expedited.”

Police assisted the Fire Department in evacuating the area, which included eight houses and 15 people, according to Fire Chief Paul Morrissette.

“It was already an isolated area because the road was closed to through traffic, so that was a benefit,” Manley said.

After evacuations were complete, Morrissette said the Fire Department remained on scene to monitor air quality levels and stand by in the event the gas was somehow ignited prior to Columbia Gas shutting off the service.

Since the incident, the damage to utility equipment has been repaired, Peirent said.

“Once they were able to shut off the gas and determine what caused the problem, the problem was relatively easy to fix,” he said.

With work resumed, Peirent explained the goal was to have the first layer of pavement laid by the end of this week.

“After that it will be a couple of weeks as structures are being adjusted and some utility modifications are being completed before the final course of pavement is placed,” he said.

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