Officials suggest propane pipe be replaced

Officials in Schoharie County this week called on the Enterprise/TEPPCO company to consider replacin

Officials in Schoharie County this week called on the Enterprise/TEPPCO company to consider replacing the entire propane pipeline that’s sprung a leak three times in or near the county.

The 165-mile-long segment of the pipeline that started spewing gas Aug. 27 blew up in North Blenheim in 1990, killing two people and destroying several buildings.

Then another explosion in 2004 destroyed a Delaware County home.

“The only reason nobody died [in 2004] is because nobody was home,” said Anne Mattice-Strauch, a Blenheim town councilwoman who has a vivid memory of the 1990 explosion.

Mattice-Strauch, one of several children on a school bus that passed the explosion site before it erupted at about 7:30 a.m. 20 years ago, described as “panic” what she and neighbors felt after the most recent leak that forced the evacuation of a three-mile area near Keyserkill Road in Gilboa.

The leak in August cost local emergency agencies roughly $40,000 and strained the nerves of people living near the pipeline.

Following an update on progress inspecting the 47-year-old pipeline during a meeting of the county’s Board of Supervisors Friday, representatives from the pipeline company and engineers from the state fielded a slew of questions and calls to consider replacing the pipeline.

“I would strongly suggest you gentlemen go back to headquarters and you look at replacing this segment of line,” Middleburgh Supervisor Dennis Richards said.

“For some reason or another, this pipeline in this area seems to be prone to incidents,” Jefferson Supervisor Daniel Singletary said.

The pressurized propane begins in Texas and runs roughly 4,200 miles in a network of underground piping ending in Selkirk, Albany County.

County Board Chairman Earl Van Wormer III said he’s been told segments of the pipeline have sophisticated gauges that enable the company to detect a leak — but that capability does not exist in the stretch that runs in Schoharie County.

“I just want to make sure we have the same treatment in Schoharie County as other places,” Van Wormer said.

Enterprise Products/TEPPCO representative C. Dan Tarpley said the section of pipe that’s had problems is small compared with its length and it’s premature at this point to determine if the entire pipe should be replaced.

Sherrie Bartholomew, a resident near the pipeline, lost her cousin Robert Hitchcock during the 1990 explosion and found the hesitation at replacing the pipeline disturbing.

“I think this is a terrible, terrible answer for the people in this room,” Bartholomew said.

Tarpley said he did not mean any offense.

“I understand that this is about people,” he said.

Mattice-Strauch questioned the company’s attention to detail when it comes to the pipe itself.

There’s at least five feet of the pipe visibly sticking out of the shore of the oft-raging Schoharie Creek. Mattice-Strauch said there has been two such exposures in the West Kill and at least one in a tributary leading to the Schoharie.

“This keeps happening where the creeks are,” Mattice-Strauch said.

Enterprise/TEPPCO representative Brian Pausley said the company is trying to get approval both from the state DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cover up the section of pipe that’s exposed in the creek.

A representatives of the New York State Department of Public Service, which is working with the federal DOT’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety office, said the pipeline won’t be filled with gas before a thorough inspection.

If the state and federal agencies aren’t confident of the pipe’s condition, “it won’t be energized,” State Public Service engineer Mike Mall said.

“There’s 165 miles of dead pipe out there essentially that needs to be evaluated. If testing shows it’s inadequate, it won’t be turned back on,” he said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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