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Out of gas

Midtown, Downtown chilled out due to utility woes

by Carrie Jones Ross
January 27, 2011 02:00 PM | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Central Hudson workers at a hole Friday on Broadway in front of Kingston Hospital. Photo by Dan Barton.
Central Hudson workers at a hole Friday on Broadway in front of Kingston Hospital. Photo by Dan Barton.
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Of all weeks, last week was not the week to be without heat, and yet about a thousand homes and businesses in downtown and Midtown Kingston were just that, due to a Thursday, Jan. 20 malfunction cruelly coinciding with a brutal cold snap.

In efforts to repair a low delivery pressure condition caused by weather-related icing to a natural gas regulator station on Spring Street which was preventing natural gas appliances from operating properly, Central Hudson shut off natural gas service starting Broadway at Andrew Street through to West Strand —closing Broadway’s traffic Thursday afternoon between O’Reilly Street and Foxhall Avenue, including East Chester Street from Broadway to Jansen Avenue. Businesses and families were left to their own devices to keep warm until the utility got its issues sorted out and restored the flow 24 to 36 hours later.

Though Central Hudson abruptly issued warnings of the problem, and publicized that the outage may well continue into Saturday, many saw starting seeing relief Friday afternoon, and others by Friday night. However some downtown businesses claim they were feeling the chill from vacant seats in their restaurants over the weekend, as residents were led to believe that those businesses would be “off the grid” until Saturday.

“It was a major hit because it was advertised as being shut down,” griped Bridgewater Irish Pub & Restaurant owner Amanda Haight. “Saturday night was also really slow. We really took a hit for the weekend just because the event took place, and the weekend is when we make all our money. It was unusually slow because of the heat problem.”

According to Haight, Bridgewater’s heat went out Thursday at 3 p.m. forcing her to close, and was restored Friday evening slightly before 8 p.m. “It kind of stinks for me because I have 6,880 square feet to heat with 35-foot ceilings in our main room, so it takes a good six to eight hours to take the chill off the bricks. It was mostly the bad press that it could last up to 48 hours. And even though we had the gas turned back on Friday, the building just wasn’t warming up. On Friday, people came in, but they were freezing. You just can’t heat the place up fast enough when you turn the heat on at 8 p.m.”

Haight said that though this winter has wreaked havoc on business, they have been prepared for weather-related issues. “But unfortunately, this sounded like a maintenance issue,” she pointed out. “If [Central Hudson] caught wind of this on a Monday or Tuesday, then do it then when we are not doing the bulk of our business. We didn’t need this. I couldn’t even imagine the homes with children — you’re talking about 800 homes.”

Moreoever, the Strand’s three most popular restaurants, Savona’s Trattoria, Ship to Shore and Mariner’s were all unexpectedly forced to abruptly close their doors to business, with little notice. According to Soren Lauridsen, a server at Savona’s, he came in to work on Thursday at 4 p.m., and got word that other restaurants were shutting down. “Central Hudson shut us down within 30 minutes of telling us about it,” said Lauridsen. “We had roughly eight to 10 reservations for the night, and had to let them know what was happening. We had countless walk-ins that we had to turn away all night. And a lot of take-outs being called in that we couldn’t do.”

Lauridsen concurred with Haight that the publicity of the closing halted business.

“Thursday is a big night for us and it hit us hard,” said Lauridsen. “Friday we got turned on at 2 p.m., but everyone was still under impression that we were closed. Saturday night we were slammed. Sunday is a little on slow side. Attribute it to weather. We are usually pretty busy down here on the weekend.”

Neal Grover of West Chestnut Street, like many other residents in that part of town, had to deal the best he could. “Thursday I walked in the door after work and my wife said, ‘Bad news, there’s no heat.’ I went to check the thermocoupler, a small safety device we’ve replaced twice on our new-in-2000 gas furnace. Couldn’t get the pilot to re-light. That was the symptom last two times,” Grover said. “So I checked the stove real quick — there was a flame — and called the plumber. I called him back later when I heard there had been a gas line rupture and there was no longer any flame on the stove. The plumber recommended I call public works. It was 5 [minutes] until 5 p.m. No answer at the central office. I called the dispatcher. She didn’t know anything about a gas problem in downtown but suggested I call Central Hudson. The only way to do that was to call the ‘gas odor’ hotline because everything else shunts you into endless menus and you wind up at billing.”

Once Grover got the scoop, it was time to go to the store. “Went to Sam’s Club and bought two space heaters. Got a generous offer from next door neighbor who runs a 30=bed rooming house for people w disabilities. She offered me her cross town apartment since she was going to have to stay at the rooming house to see to the boarders. Benedictine donated/loaned them some space heaters. Decided to stay put, [but] subsequently got many nice offers to stay elsewhere.

“We put the crappy heater on the dogs — we have four — and put the good one in the den and heated it up to 67. Went to bed puppy-pile-style and put the good heater on the dogs.”

Their chilly slumber was interrupted at 3:30 a.m. by utility workers. “’That was the doorbell’, my wife said. Dogs confirm, so I schlep down and it’s Central Hudson to look at the gas meter. They shut off the gas at the meter. Eleven-hundred customers, they say, house to house. They wrote us in a log book and put a green tag on the door that said, among other things, ‘Yellow Tag.’

“Next day [Friday], no updates,” said Grover. “Called Central Hudson to leave cell phone number and went to take showers at the YMCA. Went to Barnes and Noble to just exist in warmth. We came home and Central Hudson was at the rooming house. Asked if we were next, but no such luck. Noticed ‘yellow tag’ missing. Freaked out. Gas not turned on, but no tag! Will we get passed over? Called Central Hudson. Have to go through billing to get transferred to somebody and are reassured that if we stick around then we will get turned on and lit up.

“Went to play gig at new Stella May Gallery Theater and got a text from wife at 8:30 p.m. — ‘They are here.’ Got home 11:45 p.m., house is toasty, but next morning discover hot water is still on ‘vacation’ where I had set it because that’s what the re-lighting instructions say to do. Turned it up and since then we have been fine until tonight [Monday] when the water lines that feed the washing machine froze. I want to find a way to blame that on Central Hudson but I don’t see how,” said Grover.

“I think the team that turned off all the houses and then turned them all on again did a fantastic job. I just can’t say enough about the workers. The only thing I hate is the phone system and the electric rates that were raised due to a decrease in demand,” said Grover. “You don’t have to know Keynes to smell a rat there. Reduced demand brings a reduction in price. Why should we pay the same or more for less electricity? If we are to subsidize the electric company then they should just run it at cost as a public service.”

The utility explains

According to their website, “Natural gas service was restored to City of Kingston homes and businesses by 1 a.m. Saturday morning by Central Hudson Gas & Electric crews, supplemented by utility mutual aid and private contract crews.” Workers visited every home and business by noon on Friday to check on service and relight pilot lights as well.

“This is a rare incident,” insisted Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian. “If the repairs were not made, gas service would have been interrupted for a longer period and it would have been concerns with the very cold weather.

“This is a condition that was caused by weather from icing built up at a regulator station. It became evident on Thursday that this problem was causing a low-pressure condition over the area it served,” Maserjian said. “In order to rectify that condition it was necessary to shut down the gasses system in that limited area in the City of Kingston so the repairs could be made. The repair itself did not take as long as the entire incident, however because the gas system had to be temporarily shut down, it’s a lengthy process to re-establish gas service to each and every home and business,” said Maserjian.

Maserjian explained that efforts were made to reach every resident and business through the media and phone calls to notify them of the stoppage and to request that someone is present in order for Central Hudson to access their home for the meter and appliances. “If people weren’t home, we tried to notify those customers with the contact information we had, and in rare cases, with the assistance from the police and fire departments, we were able to gain access to their homes,” said Maserjian. “With the weather becoming increasingly closer, there was concern over the impact that those frigid temperatures could have on the homes. It was a matter of re-establishing heat, or facing potential problems. We did so only with the assistance of the police department.”

When questioned about the condition of the gas pipes, and why certain roads were dug up if the problem was indeed at the regulator station, Maserjian explained that the roads were dug up at two strategic points to clamp off and thereby minimize impact in the community. He also said that the equipment at the Spring Street regulator station is new, having been replaced two years ago. “Since 2006 more than $5.6 million has been invested in the City of Kingston gas system, including gas line replacements. System maintenance and infrastructure investments in Kingston, as well as all other areas, are ongoing, will continue this year and in the years ahead.”

“We are grateful for the valuable assistance and support provided by the City of Kingston Mayor, City of Kingston Police and Fire departments, Ulster County Emergency Management and the Ulster County Red Cross and Bruderhof shelter volunteers,” said Charles A. Freni, Senior Vice President of Customer Services for Central Hudson. “We also thank our customers for their assistance, patience and understanding as we worked to restore natural gas service to their homes and businesses.”
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