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Workers cause minor leak, evacuation

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A construction crew working south of the Center for Social Concerns ruptured a gas line Monday morning, the second such incident along St. Joseph’s Drive near the Hesburgh Library within two months.

Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) evacuated the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) after crews caused a leak at a transition point from the gas main to a “tap” that serves the emergency generators in the library, Director of Utilities Paul Kempf said.

The construction crews, who were using backhoes to dig and replace the sewer line along St. Joseph’s Drive, did not come into direct contact with the line, Kempf said. Rather, vibrations from the digging likely unsettled the soil and caused rupture in the transition point, “that had been failing already,” Kempf said.

The line ruptured at approximately 10 a.m., and the wind was moving northeast toward the CSC building, Associate Vice President for News and Information Don Wycliff said. The University “got the all clear” just after noon, he said.

The gas main is made of cheaper but more durable plastic, while the “tap” to the library is significantly older and made of steel, which apparently corroded over time, Kempf said.

The incident was just an example of the inherent possible problems of construction, Wycliff said. The University had no plans to check all transition points because of the failure of one, Kempf said.

“There are older and newer parts to the system,” he said, adding that the lines are owned by Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO). “We aren’t going to dig up a lot of places to see if those aren’t working. A lot of the campus lines have been replaced over time.”

Still, Monday’s rupture came on the heels of a more significant gas main leak in February.

The last incident occurred Feb. 12 when a backhoe working to fix a water-line break struck a four-inch gas line. For nearly two hours, gas streamed up into the air in large amounts from a small area between Stepan Chemistry Hall, the Radiation Laboratory and the Hesburgh Library.

After that event, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said he was concerned about “people getting hurt” in the event of any future gas main ruptures.

While the force of February’s leak sent debris and water shooting into the air, Monday’s was on a much smaller scale.

“The other one was certainly a more significant leak,” Kempf said. “It displaced a much larger amount of gas. This one you couldn’t hear, and partly because it broke away from the open hole.”

Crews first had to identify the location of the leak after smelling gas before they could uncover and fix it, Kempf said. NIPSCO crews fixed the leak by replacing a portion of the steel line with the newer plastic.

NDSP director Phil Johnson said NDSP works with the Office of Risk Management and Safety and the Notre Dame Fire Department to establish command at an incident like Monday’s gas leak. He said the first supervisor on the scene takes “instant command” and works to set up a perimeter.

Johnson said NDSP removed its emergency-tape perimeter once NIPSCO finished it repairs.

Construction work on the site continued Monday afternoon.