Local News

Wednesday, Aug 07 2013 06:39 PM

Subcontractor in demolition job had expired license

  1. 1 of 3

    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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  2. 2 of 3

    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    The two remaining towers of the old Pacific Gas &Electric steam power plant are on their sides Sunday after the implosion knocked them to the ground at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Saturday morning.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    An explosion knocks down one of the remaining towers at the old Kern Power Plant at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway in August. The demolition of the plant, which has been closed since 1995 after operating for about 37 years, was part of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s plan to sell the site for redevelopment.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A third state agency has opened an investigation into Saturday's power plant implosion accident after officials determined that at least one of the contractors involved was not licensed to do the work.

The Contractors State License Board said Wednesday that the general engineering and building license of Alpha Explosives -- a Lincoln-based company subcontracted for the demolition by the project's prime contractor -- expired three days before the plant implosion.

"What's unfortunate is, what may very well have been a clerical error on their part could turn into something more serious because there was a serious incident that happened while they were unlicensed," CSLB spokesman Rick Lopes said.

Lopes added that the board had no record of a license having been issued to Demtech Inc., the DuBois, Wyo. company coming brought on by Alpha to manage the explosives used in Saturday's implosion. He was unsure whether Demtech does business under a different name in California.

Cleveland Wrecking Co., the prime contractor on the overall demolition, did have a valid contractors license at the time of the demolition, but Lopes said Alpha needed one as well because it worked on the project.

Depending on what becomes of the implosion investigations being led by Cal-OSHA and the California Public Utilities Commission, Lopes said, the licensing board could pursue fines and even misdemeanor charges against Alpha.

The owner of the plant where Saturday's implosion took place, San Francisco-based gas and electric utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co., referred licensing questions to Covina-based Cleveland.

Cleveland, as well as Alpha and Demtech, could not be reached for comment.

Also Wednesday, PG&E corrected President Chris Johns' misstatement Tuesday that its primary regulator, the CPUC, had reviewed the demolition plans ahead of time.

The company issued a statement that the commission did not, in fact, review in advance any plans specific to Saturday's demolition of the boiler structures, though it was aware PG&E was removing the overall plant.

A CPUC spokesman was unable to provide information Wednesday on what level of advance review, if any, the commission performed specific to Saturday's demolition.

But in an email, spokesman Christopher Chow stated, "PG&E and its contractors are responsible for obtaining permits and ensuring safe demolition."

Hundreds of spectators gathered early Saturday to watch the implosion of the two 1940s-era boiler structures along Coffee Road, which PG&E has not used since 1985. Detonations occurred about 6 a.m. sending debris eastward over Coffee Road.

One spectator, northwest Bakersfield resident Jerry Wood, 43, suffered serious damage to his legs when he was struck by shrapnel from the implosion. He was upgraded to fair condition Wednesday at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

Alpha Explosives is a fictitious business name used by Falconi Construction Inc. It has maintained a state contractor's license since 1979. State records show Alpha is properly insured and bonded.

Alpha does have a construction and demolition license with Cal-OSHA. An agency spokeswoman said that, because the contractor has the license it would not need a site-specific permit from the agency.

PG&E said Alpha also has a license with the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Kern County Fire Department said it participated for months in planning meetings leading up to the demolition as a "standby" agency in case of an emergency. But it never issued a permit for the implosion itself, department engineer Leland Davis said.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office said it issued permits for the storage, transportation and use of explosives to six different representatives of Alpha between March 11, 2010 and March 1, 2013. Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he was unclear whether any of those permits applied to Saturday's implosion.

PG&E said it has a contract with Cleveland to manage the demolition process, and that Cleveland contracted Alpha, which in turn brought on Demtech. A company spokesman was unable to be more specific about the companies' specific roles in the demolition.

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