Robert Price

Saturday, Aug 10 2013 11:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Who's in charge here? Good question

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    Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A demolished power plant lies in smoke where the old Kern Power Plant used to stand after PG&E imploded the two remaining towers at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Aug. 3, 2013.

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    By Louis Amestoy/ The Californian

    A Kern County firefighter picks up articles of clothing and other items where at least one person was critically injured by shrapnel from the implosion of PG&E's power plant along Rosedale Highway on Aug. 3, 2013. The victim was standing just north of Jet Way and east of Coffee Road.

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By Robert Price

We have now officially entered the finger-pointing stage in the aftermath of the botched demolition of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s decommissioned power plant on Coffee Road.

Which government agency was responsible for issuing PG&E a demolition permit? Who should have been in charge of reviewing the plans of Covina-based Cleveland Wrecking Co. and its subcontractors? Was it the California Public Utilities Commission? The California Energy Commission? Cal-OSHA? The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco? The Bakersfield City Council? The response, almost in unison: We weren't consulted, we weren't responsible and we didn't OK it.

PG&E's contractors brought down two huge, 1940s-era boiler structures the morning of Aug. 3, but shrapnel and debris sprayed a festive group of onlookers east of the implosion about 1,000 feet away, pockmarking vehicles and injuring several people. The most seriously hurt man will probably lose his left leg and possibly both.

We might want to figure out why it happened. As far as PG&E President Chris Johns knows, the Bakersfield plant is the first his company has ever demo'd with explosives, but power plants are coming down in similarly dramatic fashion all over California.

Most recently a former San Diego Gas & Electric facility, the defunct South Bay Power Plant in Chula Vista, was demolished by a series of blasts on Feb. 2. Thousands of people lined the waterfront to watch the Port Authority of San Diego clear the way for a 556-acre project that will include a resort conference center.

The demolition's prelude was a very public process that included a formal sign-off by the Chula Vista City Council and various government agencies including the California Coastal Commission. The California Energy Commission was consulted too, even though the agency determined it had no jurisdiction.

Not much discussion seems to have occurred here, however. The Bakersfield City Council never discussed it. The CPUC did not review the demolition plans, a spokesman says, because it was not required to do so. And the CEC had no jurisdiction over the demolition because the commission did not license the project.

So, to review: No one, it appears, issued a demolition permit. No one, it seems, stepped forward to protect the public and ensure a safe razing.

Kern County's elected state representatives -- Shannon Grove, Rudy Salas, Jean Fuller, and Andy Vidak -- should be demanding answers on our behalf. Why bother? Because so many power plants were built right after World War II to help fuel the post-war boom and are at the end of their useful lives.

That's not news to Oakland-based Silverado Contractors Inc., which demolished the Chula Vista plant. Silverado also demo'd portions of the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Eureka, all six of the fuel oil storage tanks that supplied the Morro Bay Power Plant, and a nuclear reactor test tower at the GE Nuclear Facility in San Jose. No one was maimed -- though crowds gathered to watch each time.

Speaking of which, Johns told The Californian last week that PG&E had strongly advised people not to come near the demolition site, and at least one local TV station apparently made the same plea. But last month a PG&E representative sent an email to county employees suggesting some optimal viewing locations -- not exactly an invitation, but certainly close -- and PG&E made no effort to challenge or correct articles in The Californian that referred to observation opportunities. Like the San Diego Union-Tribune, which advised readers "Where to watch the South Bay Power Plant implosion" back in February, The Californian cheerily announced on July 29, "Demolition fans, get ready for a big boom."

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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