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City gets jump on gas line repairs

The city of Enumclaw quickly jumped on top of repair work ordered by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, looking to head off any possible monetary penalties ordered by the state agency.

As a result of those quick actions, the WUTC has decided to allow Enumclaw just two years to meet all the conditions in a proposed settlement relating to flaws found with the city’s natural gas delivery system. Initially, the state was leaning toward granting Enumclaw a three-year window to finish the required work.

“We kind of expected that would happen,” Public Works Director Chris Searcy said.

The revision to the work schedule is just one element of a mutually-agreed-upon settlement between the city and the Utilities and Transportation Commission. The settlement is a crucial step in a process that included threats of up to $11 million in penalties levied against the city and claims that Enumclaw had, for years, violated rules governing pipeline construction, maintenance and safety.

The ongoing issue came to a head in February when the WUTC issued a complaint against the city, alleging a minimum of 651 violations. The commission noted at that time that those violations, if proven true and not corrected, could result in a maximum penalty of $11 million.

By April, the two sides had agreed to use a WUTC-assigned mediator in an attempt to reach a settlement. An agreement, in principle, was quickly achieved and details were smoothed out during the summer.

According to a settlement agreement dated Aug. 25, the city “concurs that there were violations of state and federal rules regarding the inspection, monitoring and maintenance of its pipeline facilities and its records.” The WUTC has agreed to suspend all monetary penalties, provided the city meets the terms outlined in the agreement.

The proposed settlement gives the city credit in some cases and is harsh in others.

An example of WUTC criticism includes this:

“The City has a history, extending as far back as 16 years, of not complying with the Commission’s statutes and rules regarding natural gas safety. This history of repeated noncompliance results in the Commission viewing the current Settlement with some trepidation that the City will now take seriously its responsibility to maintain its pipeline facilities and records in accordance with all applicable statures and rules.”

On the other hand, the WUTC praises the city for “hiring an individual to manage the gas plant who appears to have not only the necessary experience to implement the terms of the Settlement, but an enthusiasm for and commitment to completing all necessary work in a timely manner.”

The settlement also points out that Enumclaw has already completed approximately 70 percent of the required work.

To encourage the city to continue its fast pace, the timeline was dropped from 36 months to 24 months. As an additional bit of oversight, the city must provide quarterly progress reports.

To comment on this story view it online at www.courierherald.com. Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205.

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