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Wednesday, May 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Regulators recommend Avista be fined over explosion

Utility plans to fight possible penalty for 2008 Odessa natural gas incident

State regulators say Avista Corp. should be fined in excess of $1.1 million for a December 2008 natural gas explosion in Odessa that injured two people and destroyed property.

Avista plans to fight the possible fine and said it acted swiftly and responsibly during the severe winter weather to ensure the damaged pipeline was fixed and that natural gas service resumed for its customers in the small farming community about 75 miles southwest of Spokane.

Pipeline safety investigators with the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission allege that the 2-inch natural gas line was improperly installed through the Odessa neighborhood in 1981.

The plastic pipe was embedded in a rock material that caused a crack in the line, said David Lykken, director of pipeline safety for the WUTC.

The escaping natural gas drifted from the crack and migrated through the ground from the alley until filling a nearby home, which was not hooked up to natural gas service, according to an investigators report.

A lit cigarette held by 27-year-old Roger Reyes inside the garage of his parents’ home ignited the gas about 9:15 p.m. Dec. 26, 2008, Lykken said.

Reyes was badly burned. He was treated at Odessa Memorial Hospital, then taken to the burn center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Cassandra McClure also was injured by the explosion.

A lawsuit has not been filed against Avista, and the company said Tuesday that it has not paid a settlement to the families.

The explosion destroyed the detached garage and secondary living quarters, and damaged the main residence and several vehicles.

In the aftermath, Avista and Odessa officials evacuated three nearby homes.

Work crews dug through the frozen ground to expose the damaged pipe the next morning and began repair work.

Such action violated state rules regarding evidence handling, Lykken said.

A day later safety regulators arrived to inspect the site and the segment of pipeline Avista had removed.

The WUTC staff is recommending fines that could exceed $1.1 million; actions to ensure the gas pipeline system is safe and in compliance; and that Odessa’s volunteer firefighters be trained on natural gas emergency procedures.

A hearing is scheduled in July.

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