sanbrunofire.pipe.jpgPG&E officials are looking at the possibility of rebuilding a gas line outside of where it ruptured under a San Bruno neighborhood on Sept. 9, but the company hasn’t ruled out rebuilding it in the same place.

“We are committed to working with the city, federal, and state leaders to evaluate all other available options,” PG&E spokeswoman Katie Romans said.

Romans declined to comment on whether the company would build the line in the same place after officials exhausted all other options.

“The final decision of where that pipeline will go won’t be made lightly and it won’t be made by PG&E alone,” she said.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said he met with PG&E President Chris Johns this morning to discuss a commitment by PG&E to not build the pipeline, Line 132, in the same place as where it exploded.

“After many days and hours of discussions with the mayor of San Bruno, residents, and myself, the PG&E president agreed to move the pipeline,” Yee said in a telephone interview this morning.

But in a news conference at San Bruno City Hall this afternoon, Yee conceded that the decision to move the line might not be up to PG&E.

“They can’t absolutely guarantee that because they don’t have that authority,” Yee said.
He said the decision will ultimately rest in the hands of officials at the California Public Utilities Commission, and that he expects the matter to be handled relatively quickly.

“This is not going to be a years process. This is not going to be a many months process. This is a short timeline,” Yee said at the conference, which was also attended by San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane.

On Sept. 9, Line 132 ruptured and caused an explosion that tore through the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood, killing eight people and destroying 35 homes.

Most owners of the obliterated homes agreed to have their lots gutted and reduced to piles of dirt for reconstruction by government crews.

Beyond the physical act of rebuilding the neighborhood, officials have to consider how to rebuild the psychological health of its residents, Ruane said.

“We have kids up there that are uncomfortable in the evening,” he said.

This morning’s meeting with PG&E, which was also attended by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, addressed concerns about replacing Line 132.

“They met to talk about logistical challenges, not necessarily specific locations to move the line,” Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said.

Officials are looking to move the pipeline possibly to an area without a neighborhood or without endangered species inhabiting it, Keigwin said.

“Surely there must be a better place than through the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Yee said in a statement.

Yee said that PG&E officials are doing their due diligence to identify other pipelines at risk of damaging densely populated areas, but Hill questioned if that was the case.

“We still need to determine why this tragedy occurred and why a section of this same pipeline in South San Francisco has not been replaced – even after PG&E was granted two rate hikes to do so,” Hill said in a statement.

PG&E received approval to increase service rate prices through the CPUC in 2006, which brought in $5 million to PG&E from customers.

Part of the rate hike was to pay for a project to replace a segment of Line 132 that runs under South San Francisco and that was deemed high-risk, Romans said.

After receiving the $5 million, engineers determined that the segment was not in immediate need of replacement, and the funds generated were diverted to other projects in early 2008, Romans said.

Romans said an additional $630,000 was approved in 2009 for another project involving the segment, which would upgrade several meters along the pipeline to prevent vehicle contact with them.

Overall, PG&E received $5.2 million from customers for gas-related rate hikes in 2009, Romans said.

Paperwork that initially requested the 2009 hikes, called a rate case, indicates a segment of pipe running through South San Francisco was again scheduled to be replaced.

The paperwork said, “This is driven by relatively high risk and likelihood of failure for all parts. If the replacement of this pipe does not occur, risks associated with this segment will not be reduced.”

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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