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Gas back on in Walsenburg

by Eric Mullens
WALSENBURG — Walsenburg municipal gas utility crews spent a busy five days fixing a natural gas leak that interrupted service to residents and business that began on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The reactivation of service to residents caused some confusion and complaints as gas crews were dispatched according to years-old meter reader listspredating the new electronic meter reading system. Some residents called the city wondering why some homes in a neighborhood were reactivated, but not all homes on the block were serviced at the same time. Interim city administrator David Johnston said this was the only kind of option the city had as they responded to the situation. He said this was the best available plan to use to keep track of which customers had been reactivated and pilot lights lit.
According to Johnston, a weld in the 1965-era steel supply line, located approximately three-miles north of Aguilar, failed Tuesday night, November 6. Gas escaped through a 3/8″ gap in the line that extended around half of the pipe’s circumference. To stop the flow of gas, a valve south of Aguilar had to be closed, which also left that town without natural gas.
The original line was laid about 18” below surface and the break is at the crest of a hill. To accommodate the terrain, an elbow was welded into the pipe (circa 1965) to route the line down the north side of the hill. The weld connecting that particular elbow failed.
Johnston said a number of entities offered help to the city, “(CIG) Colorado Interstate Gas has offered their assistance, the county emergency team has offered to assist with the persons most severely affected by the lack of heat, and the Huerfano County Sheriff’s office provided assistance in locating the leak. Walsenburg Housing Authority used their personnel to turn on the meters in their units and the Spanish Peaks Apartments.”
The discovery of the break was made when Johnston was notified Tuesday night by CIG there had been a large, sudden upswing in gas consumption. City gas employees and Huerfano County Sheriff’s deputies began driving south along I-25 sniffing for gas odor.
Repairs to the main supply line were completed on Thursday evening and the main supply line was re-pressurized. The distribution lines in Walsenburg and Aguilar were then reactivated and gas line pressures were restored and stabilized throughout Thursday night. City of Walsenburg employees, with the assistance of the Huerfano County Fire Protection District personnel, Walsenburg Housing Authority personnel and other qualified resident volunteers, started restoring services through the 1,400 gas meters early Friday morning. Seven two-man teams were deployed across Walsenburg from dawn to dusk on Friday and Saturday and from dawn to noon Sunday to accomplish the service restoration.
The City of Walsenburg reported that, as of noon Sunday, Nov. 11, most all natural gas service has been restored and all customers residences in the area have had their meters reactivated and pilot lights lit.
Johnston said Tuesday, Nov. 13, that a few residences, mainly those unoccupied and owned by out of town individuals had not had gas service restored.
Johnston said teams started working Saturday at 6:30 a.m. and continued for about 12-hours until it became too dark to continue reactivation of meters. The city teams connected and activated 523 meters on Saturday and continued the process through most of the day on Sunday to ensure all residential customers’ services had been activated.
Todd Oberheu, CEO of Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center was notified of the situation as soon as city administration had been informed and he mobilized his repairmen to switch the hospital to their backup propane supply.
Johnston said this week the city will continue to inspect the gas line to ensure there are no other leaks. He also said the city may form a committee to study the response and to help develop a plan of action for any future event that could help streamline the process.
“Despite everything, there was a great community effort in dealing with this problem,” Johnson said citing cooperation between city employees, law enforcement from both the city and county, the county volunteer fire department, Housing Authority employees and others.