Agency tells city to take care of utility

Enumclaw officials found themselves scrambling last week, responding to news that the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission was considering sanctions against the city that could include penalties in the neighborhood of $11 million.

The news was included in a press release issued Feb. 10 by the UTC, a document that spelled out a long history of inadequacies in the city’s natural gas delivery system.

The news prompted an emergency meeting of the Enumclaw City Council the evening of Feb. 11 and had a trio of city officials – City Administrator Mark Bauer, Public Works Director Chris Searcy and City Attorney Mike Reynolds – making a trip to Olympia Friday to meet with UTC representatives.

The purpose of that meeting was be begin discussions that could lead to a settlement. Bauer said the meeting was productive and predicted the matter would be resolved within a couple of weeks.

The UTC release of Feb. 10 was ominous, indeed, detailing safety violations with the city’s natural gas distribution system dating back more than a dozen years.

“The city is unable to demonstrate it has performed proper maintenance and other minimum safety operations on its gas system,” said UTC Pipeline Safety Program Director Anne Soiza in the press release. “Commission staff has attempted to work with city officials to resolve these problems. Unfortunately, through follow-up inspections, we found the city has failed to adequately correct ongoing safety issues. We are concerned, if left unaddressed, that this pattern of behavior by the city will put the public at risk.”

The city immediately posted information on its Web site stating that the UTC information came as a surprise. In its defense, the city has pointed to a letter received 10 months ago from the state agency. In that document, the UTC notes that the city took four agreed-upon steps to upgrade its natural gas utility, thus satisfying the actions required as part of a previous settlement agreement.

The situation changed in November, when another letter from the UTC spelled out how the UTC had conducted a “natural gas safety standard” inspection in June.

The UTC staff documented “10 state and federal probable safety code violations and six areas of concern,” the letter said.