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Breed seeks answers for Haight gas leaks, sinkholes

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Board of Supervisors President London Breed on Thursday called a hearing to address the failures that led to a series of gas leaks and sinkholes along Haight Street last year.

The five ruptured gas lines and two sinkholes that opened up during construction on Haight Street between Masonic Avenue and Ashbury Street from late April to October 2015disrupted business for stores and posed safety concerns for those in the area.

“Only two days after the work started was when the first gas leak occurred, and it was chaos,” Christin Evans, the owner of Booksmith on Haight Street, said at the hearing. “There was complete disruption to that block beyond just parking restrictions and traffic controls. It was completely shut down.”

Breed’s special hearing before the Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Thursday comes days after The City fired Synergy Project Management, the subcontractor who caused the gas leaks and at least one sinkhole.

The City tried to remove Synergy from the contract in October, according to the Department of Public Works, but the subcontractor appealed the decision, which led to an independent hearing in December.

The City and state agencies she called to answer on Thursday dodged blame for allowing the gas lines to rupture one after another.

John Thomas, division manager for Project Management and Construction with DPW, said Synergy was hired by the main contractor on the project, Ghilotti Bros., because they were the lowest bidder.

“I do believe that the fault lies with the contractor,” Thomas said, referring to Synergy. Instead of hand-digging around the gas pipes, Synergy used mechanical tools and ruptured the lines as a result, he said.

Breed said that there has been a lot of finger pointing since surrounding the gas leaks and sinkholes, including claims that the PG&E had not properly marked the gas lines that were ruptured by Synergy.

“I’ve reviewed all of these five incidents and I believe these five facilities are properly marked,” said John Higgins, vice president of Gas Transmission and Distribution Operations for PG&E.

Synergy officials were not present at the meeting to comment on the matter.

A representative for the California Public Utilities Commission, Ken Bruno, said the state agency only investigated the first gas leak from April 29 of last year and determined it was caused by Synergy.

Tommy Moala, assistant general manager for Sewer and Wastewater at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said that Synergy only caused one of the sinkholes, while the other was outside of their construction site and a third was even farther away.

Breed said she aims to create a plan of action that would prevent repeated instances of sinkholes and gas leaks from happening again.

“I don’t want to see any work resume in the Haight Street until we can be sure our neighborhood will be safe,” Breed said.

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