Construction company says subcontractor nicked line

NW Natural said third party marked gas lines at the site in September

Crews cleanup following a gas explosion in NW Portland, October 20, 2016. (KOIN)
Crews cleanup following a gas explosion in NW Portland, October 20, 2016. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Investigators are still working to piece together exactly what caused Wednesday’s NW Portland gas explosion that destroyed buildings, caused widespread damage and injured 8 people.

On Thursday, officials revealed Bremik Construction hired a utility subcontractor to perform relocations near its project site on NW 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street where the pipeline was nicked.

Loy Clark Pipeline confirmed its electrical division was working at the site Wednesday, but said all gas lines were located and notifications were made before work began.

“The incident occurred when Loy Clark’s electrical division was working at a construction site for a new building. Loy Clark Pipeline Co. will be working with investigators. Additionally, we are partnering with NW Natural to provide hotel rooms for those in need of shelter and we are providing support to Red Cross Cascades Region.” – Loy Clark Pipeline

NW Natural, Bremik and Loy Clark all agreed the gas lines were located and protocols were in place at the construction zone. Loy Clark reportedly requested the locate on September 12, a day before it was done. But it’s still unclear who performed it.

Officials with NW Natural told KOIN 6 News gas line locates are often done before permits are issued for construction projects and underground work. The company sometimes does its own locates, but in this case it was done by a third party.

Finding out which company was responsible for marking the utility lines is just part of the investigation aimed at holding someone accountable for Wednesday’s blast.

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

“All of the details about the [gas line] location are part of the investigation,” Melissa Moore with NW Natural said. “We eagerly await the results.”

Investigators will work to see if the gas main and service lines were marked correctly, or whether Loy Clark’s crew could have made an error that led to the blast.

Documents show Loy Clark had at least 5 violations with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the last 2 1/2 years.

The company was cited for using respirators that didn’t fit workers correctly and for not posting appropriate street warnings to protect flaggers. The most serious violation was a potential cave-in hazard at an open trench.

Each of the violations has been settled or withdrawn, records show.

NW Natural said the damaged line was a 1-inch coated steal pipe installed in 1985. The company said it moved the meter and replaced 6-feet of the service line in 1996.

Surveys done in January reportedly showed no leaks or corrosion on the pipe.

Investigators conducted interviews with construction workers and witnesses.

“Unfortunately yesterday the worst case scenario played out,” PF&R Lt. Rich Chatman said. “[It] was surreal and a reminder of the dangers officials face everyday.”

Press briefing from 12 p.m. Thursday, October 20, 2016:

The injured firefighters have been identified as Peter St. John, Brett Kimple and Eric Kent. Peter St. John underwent surgery Wednesday for a broken leg. He is still hospitalized and is currently in fair condition.

Injured firefighters Bret Kimple (left), Peter St. John (center) and Erik Kent (right). (Portland Fire & Rescue)
Injured firefighters Bret Kimple (left), Peter St. John (center) and Erik Kent (right). (Portland Fire & Rescue)

Photos: Gas explosion rocks Portland neighborhood

The injured police officers were named as Officer Larry McNabb, assigned to Central Precinct, and Officer Christopher Kulp, assigned to Youth Services Division. Both suffered minor injuries and were briefly hospitalized. Sgt. Pete Simpson, who spoke during a press conference, said the officers “had to be pulled from the scene” because they wanted to stay and help.