PSE defends proposed $1.5 million Greenwood explosion settlement to state commission

Greenwood Explosion (KOMO Photo)

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Puget Sound Energy and staff from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission are defending their proposed settlement on the 2016 natural gas explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

It includes what the state says is the largest fine ever imposed on a pipeline incident.

$1.5 million is what PSE is agreeing to pay in fines and it's agreeing to check thousands of gas lines to insure their safety.

It's work that has already started. Work crews are out inspecting and fixing natural gas lines that have been retired and no longer being used.

This comes in response to the disastrous explosion of March 9, 2016. More than a dozen businesses were damaged, some of them destroyed, and nine fire fighters were injured when an unused natural gas pipeline exploded.

It was determined a private contractor working for PSE improperly capped the line after it was no longer being used in 2004.

"We concur that violations occurred," testified Catherine Koch of PSE. "We're determined to prevent another Greenwood explosion."

On Monday PSE and staff members of the state UTC testified in Olympia about the settlement proposal reached in March.

PSE would be fined $2.75 million, but all but $1.5 million would be suspended if PSE inspects and repairs 40,000 retired natural gas service lines. The money goes into a fund to promote pipeline regulation and safety projects.

"If it were to come out that way that would be the largest penalty that the pipeline safety staff has ever administered," Alan Rathbun, UTC pipeline safety manager said at the hearing.

"If PSE does follow through and makes sure this cannot happen again, like absolutely makes sure, then I think it's a fair penalty," said Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe owner Chris Maykut,

But, none of the settlement money would go to the businesses. PSE is handling them separately. At last report PSE said eight of 15 claims have been dealt with.

"As far as our business and how PSE has taken care of us subsequently, at least recently, we are pretty satisfied," said Maykut.

At the hearing there was questioning by Public Counsel attorneys representing citizens inferring the settlement isn't harsh enough.

But, if the settlement is modified, PSE said there's a chance it will pull out of it.

The commissioners will take what they heard and make a decision in the near future.

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