Officials look at propane safety | SierraSun.com

Officials look at propane safety

Christina Nelson

After three weeks of monitoring and cleanup of a propane spill, long-time residents – who remember the 1993 propane explosion that killed one man and injured eight – are wondering what will happen to AmeriGas once the situation is under control.

According to some residents, the company – a major supplier of propane in the United States – has somewhat of a botched reputation in Truckee after the explosion at Josephine’s Pasta and Pizza on Commercial Row.

“I’m ready to picket in front of AmeriGas to run them out of town,” said Jane Millholen, a 28-year Truckee resident who was a friend of John Davey, the man killed in the 1993 blast.

Millholen worked at Josephine’s at the time and remembers Davey as “a wonderful human being.”

While seven propane-related explosions in 1992 and the downtown explosion in 1993 prompted Truckee authorities to look at a higher level of regulation, 10 years later, Truckee officials are seeing if new state legislation will be required to keep an eye on propane distributors.

“It’s appalling that the same regulations that regulate a (gasoline) service station don’t apply to propane,” said Truckee Mayor Ted Owens.

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Owens is hoping to push for legislation in the next state legislative session.

“It may well be that the existing law wasn’t followed,” said Tom Hudson, a legislative analyst in State Sen. Rico Oller’s office. “Then that’s a different situation. And it may be that the current regulations are inadequate.”

Oller’s office has just begun researching current regulations on propane tanks.

A little-known state agency may be responsible for oversight of propane installations like the AmeriGas tank and pipe that has caused three weeks of chaos and closures in Truckee.

The California Department of Industrial Relations Pressure Vessel Division – which checks propane installations that do not supply directly to homes – will be in Truckee this week to check the AmeriGas operation.

“We’re really not familiar with the site,” said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the Department of Industrial Relations. “So we don’t know if we would have had oversight on the lines leading up to the tank.”

Fryer believes AmeriGas’ tank is on a three-year permit cycle, but couldn’t confirm that the pipe is within his agency’s jurisdiction.

The California Public Utilities Commission – the other agency that regulates propane distribution systems – claims it does not regulate the pipe or tank.

According to the California Public Utilities code, that agency regulates propane distribution systems that serve “10 or more customers… apartment house, a condominium, a cluster of homes, a shopping center… a mobile home park with two or more customers, or any system if a portion of the system is located in a public place, which is connected to a tank or tanks, for the purpose of distribution of propane to the end customers.”

Despite the possible lack of regulations, many still wonder why the pipe started leaking in the first place. About a week ago authorities found a pinhole in the AmeriGas pipe and sent it to a metallurgical lab for testing. The results have not yet been released.

Bob Roseler, vice president of operations at AmeriGas, said the pipe is made of iron with a heavy coating.

“Typically that pipe doesn’t go bad,” Roseler said. “Unless something disturbs it, it will last indefinitely.”

The pipe and tank have been located off Donner Pass Road for approximately 27 years.

Whether the situation merits a new law or stricter enforcement of current regulations, long-time Truckee residents will continue to remember the explosion at Josephine’s.

“The building blew, then all these helicopters flew in from Sacramento,” Millholen said of the attention the event received.

Millholen remembers how the townspeople waited on the edge of their seats while rescuers searched for 4-year-old Madeline Bond, who had been trapped in the rubble. She was found three hours later and treated for a major head injury.

And some residents will inevitably connect this propane leak with the tragedy 10 years ago.

“It seems like the same thing that happened down in the alley,” said Truckee resident Jody Sweet.