By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Several businesses and apartments in downtown Bowling Green were evacuated Thursday evening after dangerously high levels of natural gas were detected in the area.
Laura Wicks, of Grounds for Thought, said that she noticed the gas smell shortly before 6 p.m. The coffee shop and Coyote Beads, both on the west side of the 100 block of South Main Street, were shut to the public after that because of the gas smell.
Owners of those two businesses and Lahey Appliance & TV said Columbia Gas teams were in their stores working on gas lines earlier in the day on Thursday. The natural gas company has been working in the downtown area all summer replacing old gas lines.
Wicks said a Columbia Gas employee was on the scene, and told her and Gayle Walterbach of Coyote Beads that he needed to call in more help to handle the problem.
However, the Bowling Green Fire Division was not notified of the gas leak until nearly two hours after the smells were noticed, when Columbia Gas called 911.
“We were never notified until 8,” Fire Chief Bill Moorman said on Friday.
When the fire division arrived downtown, the smell of natural gas was obvious. Atmospheric tests done by firefighters showed high levels of gas.
“The gas levels were at a dangerous level,” Moorman said.
The fire chief classified the gas levels as being in the “lower explosive limits.”
“It was getting to the point that a spark, anything can really set it off,” Moorman said. “Pretty much anything ignites natural gas.”
The Bowling Green Police Division joined the fire division in evacuating the businesses and residents in the general area of the leak in the 100 block of South Main Street. The street was also closed to traffic to limit the risks.
“Fortunately, after 8 p.m. most of the businesses are closed anyway,” Moorman said.
The Columbia Gas spokesperson for the Bowling Green project was not available Friday afternoon, but Moorman said the crew members on the scene Thursday evening said they were having difficulty shutting the leak, and were initially unsure if the leak was from an old or new line.
The fire division ventilated the affected buildings and stayed on the scene until about 11:20 p.m.
“It was a dangerous situation. It was handled well by police and fire,” Moorman said.
However, city officials do have some concerns about how the leak was handled by Columbia Gas. Those issues will be raised on Monday or Tuesday, when city leaders plan to meet with Columbia Gas representatives.
“We’ve got concerns like everybody else,” said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. “We want to share the concerns of the public.”
Moorman is also anxious to discuss how a leak can be handled in the future.
“We need to come up with a better procedure if it ever happens again,” he said.
The fire division has always encouraged the public to report suspected gas leaks.
“What we always recommend is if anyone smells anything, call 911,” Moorman said. “Safety is our primary concern. We prefer to err on the side of safety.”
Cheri Pastula, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas, responded Friday evening and said the fire division was notified when the gas company knew the electricity needed to be shut off. The fire division removed the electric meter from the buildings involved, she said.
“We have gas professionals that are experienced in emergency response and will notify first responders when necessary,” Pastula said. “All of our policies and procedures were followed appropriately and most importantly, safely.”