Puget Sound Energy has agreed to pay at least $1.5 million in penalties for the March 2016 natural-gas explosion in the heart of Greenwood.
A $1.5 million penalty was announced Tuesday in a settlement between Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and the staff of the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission over the massive March 9, 2016, natural-gas explosion in the heart of Greenwood.
The 1:40 a.m. explosion “feels like a bomb went off,” a neighbor said that morning.
In addition to the penalty, PSE spokesman Grant Ringel said the utility has received 15 claims from individuals affected by the blast, and “to date, eight have been resolved.”
The blast, in a line that was supposed to have been retired in 2004, destroyed three businesses, damaged nearly three dozen others and injured nine firefighters.
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An estimate the day of the explosion placed the damage at $3 million. The three businesses that were destroyed were in two adjacent buildings, one built in 1910, the other in 1926.
Investigators found that employees of Pilchuck Contractors, a Kirkland company hired by PSE for pipeline maintenance, did not properly cut and cap the line.
Instead, gas was still flowing in the pipe 12 years later, when people using the narrow space between two buildings to store personal belongings broke the pipe at a threaded connection.
The commission said that the penalty will increase by $1.25 million, to $2.75 million, if PSE doesn’t complete in time “a comprehensive inspection and remediation program” for thousands of retired service lines it has in the state.
Depending on the work — which includes inspecting thousands of retired service lines — the utility has between 1 ½ and 3 years to complete it. PSE said it “will move very aggressively” to make the inspections.
The settlement will be presented to the three-member commission, which can accept, reject or modify the agreement. PSE could have faced up to $3.2 million in penalties after the commission filed a complaint alleging 17 violations of pipeline-safety regulations.
A statement released last year by PSE called the fines “disappointing and excessive” and reiterated that the pipe was damaged by people in a space where they were not supposed to be.
Witnesses to the explosion told investigators they sometimes tripped on or bumped into the steel service line between two businesses that were destroyed: Mr. Gyros and Neptune Coffee.
Of the three businesses that were destroyed, these days, Mr. Gyros parks a food truck in front of its old building and sells its seasoned cheap eats. The others are gone.
A posting on the Mr. Gyros website says, “Thank you for all of the outpouring love and support through this difficult and emotional time. With the help of everyone, Mr. Gyros Greenwood will bounce back, rebuild and be stronger than ever.”
In addition, other nearby shops suffered damage and have closed or moved.
One such business is G&O Family Cyclery that was next to Neptune Coffee. It has found a new location a block north on Greenwood Avenue North.
“The blast took down the ceiling and the roof collapsed,” said David Giugliano, one of the co-owners.
He said the bike shop’s unpaid insurance claim is about $500,000, and, referring to PSE, “I’ve told them about my damage.” Whether the shop sues the utility “depends on how they respond.”
Giugliano said the shop is determined to keep going.
“We’re trying hard to stay here,” he said.