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Unknown amount of gas remains after leak in Milton

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Remediation plans underway

An undetermined amount of propane gas remains in the ground and under homes in Cannery Village following a gas leak Feb. 6.

Jamie Bethard, emergency prevention and response section manager with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said it's unclear how long the leak on Sundance Lane in Milton's Cannery Village was releasing propane gas.

More than four dozen concerned residents gathered at the

Cannery Village Clubhouse Feb. 10 to find out more about what happened, what remediation plans are in place and to ask state and local officials about safety and health-related issues.

"As a community, you are safe," Bethard said to a crowded room Feb. 10. "Do we have a problem here? We do. Is it manageable? Yes."

On Feb. 6, two gas leaks were reported to the Milton Fire Department. Poore's Propane, the company in charge of the utility, found a leaky valve in the early afternoon, which Field Supervisor Mike Schaffer said Feb. 8 was thought to be minor enough to leave until Monday morning, when a full crew could return with proper equipment.

However, just a few hours later, another gas leak was reported to the fire company. Around 7:30 p.m., Poore's crews returned with equipment to excavate the area and discovered that a connector on the distribution main, about four or five feet from the valve leak, had broken and was releasing propane gas into the ground.

"This has never happened to us, so this is a bit of a learning experience for us, too," Schaffer said Feb. 10. He said the 3-inch plastic pipe in question was installed in December 2006 and was last inspected in 2011. He said Poore's routinely inspects lines every five years, and this particular line would have been due for service this year.

Bethard said DNREC was called shorty after the leak was reported and began assessing homes in the area, finding that gas had seeped into several homes through sump pumps. After the leak was detected, propane service for the entire development — more than 180 homes — was temporarily suspended as the broken connector was repaired.

The street was blocked off, homes in the immediate area were evacuated and crews continued assessing the extent of the leak.

DNREC emergency response crews found moderate to high levels of propane gas in four homes in the 200 block of Sundance Lane, which were then hooked up to ventilation systems; homes were still being aired out early this week.

"If you are not within 100 yards of where the leak occurred, you don't have anything to worry about," Bethard said.

Most families have returned to their homes, with the exception of Jim Crellin and his wife, whose home caught on fire less than a week before the gas leak was found. The Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the fire, Crellin said. Crellin said the fire, which began in the basement, caused so much damage that the home will need to be torn down to the studs and rebuilt. He said he's not expecting to move back in until August.

The broken main, just outside of Crellin's home, was fixed within hours and the excavated area was covered up, trapping gas in the ground, Bethard said.

On Monday, Feb. 15, a contractor is expected to start drilling wells in order to pull the remaining propane out of the ground. Unlike natural gas which is lighter than air and would rise into the air, Bethard said, propane gas is heavy, and tends to follow pipe lines or cracks in the soil, which is why some of the gas made its way into nearby sump pumps and basements.

"We need to encourage that propane gas to come back to where we are," Bethard said. "That's going to be a challenging undertaking."

Bethard said once the wells are drilled, it's unclear how long it will take to pull the remaining gas from the ground. He estimated that from the original point of release, propane may have infiltrated the soil up to 100 feet in all directions. Both Bethard and Schaffer said it's unknown how much gas remains in the ground.

"We're working on that math in the office just to try to get some kind of grasp on it," Schaffer said.

The cost of remediation, which has not been priced, will be the responsibility of Poore's Propane, and no state money will fund the cleanup, Bethard said. Schaffer said Poore's also has purchased 75 sensors for homeowners, and will continue ordering and supplying the community with sensors until the residents are happy.

No additional leaks have been detected, and there are no long-term health concerns associated with exposure to propane gas.



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Original Publication Date: February 12, 2016

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