Search of sewer lines could expand

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2010 - 3:32 PM

After two homes in the Twin Cities metro area were destroyed in natural gas accidents last month, a state agency is stepping up its vigilance.

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A gas main (yellow) intersects a sewer line in St. Paul.

Photo: Minnesota Department of Public Safety

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An intensive three-year program being launched by Xcel Energy to inspect every sewer pipe in its service area to make sure they are clear of gas lines could be adopted by other utility companies in the state.

"We think every sewer line ought to be cameraed," said State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl, who also serves as director of the state Office of Pipeline Safety. "It's our position that the only way to be totally safe is to verify all of them."

Rosendahl was among several speakers Wednesday night at a community forum on pipeline safety in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, where one of two Twin Cities homes destroyed in a natural gas explosion last month was located.

On Feb. 1, that home exploded after a drain service worker accidentally pierced an Xcel gas line that had been inadvertently bored through a sewer pipe years before.

On Feb. 23, an Edina home was flattened aftera contractor for Qwest accidentally severed a CenterPoint Energy gas main.

On Monday, Xcel formally filed a plan with the state Department of Public Safety to inspect every sewer line in its service area for underground gas lines accidentally bored through sewer pipes and to make any needed repairs.

The three-year effort will start with inspecting sewer laterals -- the smaller sewer pipes that connect buildings with the city's main pipes -- in 50,000 homes in St. Paul and South St. Paul, said Bill Kapher, Xcel's vice president of operations, who was at the forum. At the same time, the company will look at public buildings like schools, hospitals and churches across its service area. Eventually, the program will expand to other areas.

Xcel also plans to improve communication with those who work with sewers, and it launched a 24-hour "Call Before You Clear" phone line (1-800-895-2999) to call before clearing sewer blockages.

It's unclear how much the plan will cost or how the costs will be covered. Bids are being sought, and it's anticipated that work will start in April.

Jim Anderson • 612-673-7199

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