Local News

Monday, Jun 10 2013 06:07 PM

Alta Vista project back on track seven weeks after gas explosion

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    By Steven Mayer / The Californian

    Seven weeks after an asphalt grinder chewed into a shallow natural gas line on Alta Vista Drive, causing an explosion and fire that destroyed the grinder and halted the resurfacing project, work has resumed on the project

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Heavy road work on Alta Vista Drive resumed Monday, exactly seven weeks after an asphalt grinder cut into a PG&E-owned natural gas line, causing an explosion and fire that destroyed the grinder and halted the road resurfacing project.

For Alta Vista resident Linda Hendricks, who has battled dust and uncertainty since the stoppage, the resumption of the road work was a welcome sign. But she said she will remain skeptical until it's clear the work has been completed.

"I would really like to know, what is the length of this project?" she asked. "Is it really going to happen?"

On Monday it certainly seemed to be happening as a huge machine crawled southward on Alta Vista, chewing up hundreds of cubic yards of asphalt and spewing it into the back of a dump truck. A similar grinder was deemed a total loss following the April 22 explosion that led to the evacuation of several residences in the northeast Bakersfield neighborhood.

Following the April incident, Pavement Recycling Systems, the company that owns the totaled road grinder, said the depth of the broken gas main was measured at just 4 inches below the road's surface. Standard depth for gas mains of that size is 24 to 30 inches.

While the employee operating the grinder was unharmed, the heavy machine was a total loss. A new grinder can cost as much as $1 million, a company spokeswoman said.

Burtch Construction, the company contracted by the Kern County Roads Department to perform the work, said it took a cautious approach, even after learning that PG&E had given the go-ahead to resume work.

"That's why we were over there double-checking," said Burtch spokeswoman Martha Fischer.

It's called "potholing," Fischer said. "We dig down and make sure (the gas lines) are where they said they are."

Indeed, PG&E crews have been working on and off along the street for weeks, digging trenches. A utility spokesman, first reached last week, was unable Monday to provide updated information on the project.

The California Public Utilities Commission confirmed in April that it would investigate the explosion and fire. But on Monday, seven weeks after the incident, a spokesman at the Commission's San Francisco offices was unable to provide the results of the investigation.

Burtch's Fischer estimated the resurfacing project would take four to six weeks, barring unforseen problems. Excess asphalt on Alta Vista, between Columbus Street and Panorama Drive, will be removed, until the street is leveled from curb to curb, she said.

Once that is done, it will be resurfaced.

Over the past few weeks, Alta Vista resident Hendricks could occasionally be seen using her garden hose to spray water on the dusty road that runs beside her house.

"You should see the dust on my car," she said, even as she acknowledged that she and her garden hose were fighting a losing battle.

Now she just wants it to be over.

"I do appreciate the effort," she said. "It's going to be nice when it's done."

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