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Businesses, homes evacuated after accidental gas leak at construction site

Pipeline fixed, power restored within a few hours


(Canadian OH&S News) — Restaurants, a doctor’s office and other businesses and residences in a commercial neighbourhood of Belleville, Ont. were evacuated on the late afternoon of July 25, after construction equipment hit an underground gas pipe in the area. But things returned to normal after the gas leak was repaired and deemed accidental.

The incident occurred at a construction site on Front Street in the city’s downtown core at about 5 p.m., according to Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Greatrix of the Belleville Fire Department.

“A piece of construction equipment had damaged a six-inch gas line,” said Greatrix. “It sprung a leak, so we responded with assistance from our fire department, police and EMS. We started evacuating the area and started to eliminate any ignition sources.”

Union Gas, the natural-gas supplier that owns the pipeline, was also called to the scene to shut off the power in the area. The company then repaired the damaged line and tested it, before checking all of the buildings in the area for dangerous gas buildup, Greatrix added.

Service to about 120 Union Gas customers was interrupted before technicians finished fixing the pipeline at around 9 p.m., said Andrea Stass, the company’s manager of media relations.

“The city police and fire department worked pretty closely with us on a plan to restore service, which involved us double-checking each of about 60 buildings the following morning, just to confirm that there was no gas,” explained Stass. “And then they were able to turn the power back on.”

Afterwards, Union Gas began going door-to-door to relight appliances in the buildings. By the following evening, the company still had not gained access to about 40 buildings, according to Stass.

“So we leave behind our contact information, and they call us to set an appointment when it’s convenient,” she said.

Neither the police, the fire department nor occupational health and safety authorities are investigating the leak at this time, due to its accidental nature.

It wasn’t a deliberate thing,” said Greatrix. “There was no fire, but it certainly created public safety concerns for the area, so we dealt with that.”

A similar incident occurred in Belleville last October, when equipment made contact with a gas line and caused a leak at a construction site on Moira Street. “In that incident, a gas line was hit, and it did ignite, resulting in the loss of a building,” explained Greatrix.

The site supervisor involved in the previous incident has since been charged with two counts under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The day after the more recent leak, an update on the City of Belleville website informed residents that full power had been restored to the area and that Union Gas representatives were in the process of reactivating appliances in businesses and residences.

“I spoke with several business owners in the downtown area this morning, and their patience with this situation is deeply appreciated,” Belleville mayor Taso Christopher said in a media statement on July 26. “The collaborative efforts of many were truly exemplary in this situation… This has been a challenge for all those involved, and I commend everyone for working together in such a positive and professional manner.”

Christopher credited the successful response to “the unified command of Tri Emergency Services (Belleville Fire, Belleville Police and Quinte Paramedic Service) in conjunction with many community agencies, all supported by City staff.”

“A big leak, but I think we took on the right steps to protect the people within the area and to prevent the gas leak from igniting,” said Greatrix.

“Certainly some people were displaced for a period of time,” he added, “but we got them back in fairly quickly.”