McFarland family questions project safety after two gas leaks, evacuations in 3-weeks

GAS LINE mcfarland.jpg

MCFARLAND, Wis. - After being evacuated twice because a gas line was hit two times in a three-week span, a McFarland family wants to make sure any digging work is being done right.

“Well, it was weird,” Lisa Grady said.

The first happened Dec. 20, which was a day off for Grady and her two dogs. She noticed the project outside her home on Calico Court, but wasn’t sure of its nature.

She was cooking with her gas stove, not expecting a knock on her door telling her to evacuate because of a gas leak.

"I'm like, ‘OK, I've got to get my dogs out,’” Grady said. "My first thought were my dogs. If I wasn't home, what would've happened?”

Then three weeks later on Jan. 9, Grady’s household was evacuated again.

"Well the second time, I was a little disgusted because it's like, 'Oh seriously, how does this happen?'" she said.

TDS Telecommunications is installing a fiber optic network. According to TDS spokesperson DeAnne R. Boegli, the gas line locates were accurate, but the first hit happened when a TDS contractor dug too hard with a shovel. The second time, the contractor hit the gas main in the process of digging a hole to access underground lines.

"TDS works closely with contractors to train and follow safety protocols,” Boegli said. "There is always risk when you are digging underground, especially in a climate like Wisconsin where frost can push lines into unknown spaces. We work with an abundance of caution, often using hand tools to dig and locate lines. This demonstrates our awareness of the importance of safety during the construction process."

Alliant Energy crews repaired the damage to their gas line. According to Scott Reigstad with Alliant, while it is not common for a gas line to be damaged twice in a three-week time span in the same project, it does happen and is not out of the ordinary.

News 3 asked area energy companies how common gas leaks are. In 2017, Alliant Energy reports 104 gas leaks for its about 4,500 miles of gas lines. MGE reports 89 leaks over about 5,000 miles of service lines. We Energies, with its nearly one million miles of gas service lines, saw about 600 gas leaks.

According to Steve Schultz with MGE, gas leaks can encompass a range of scenarios, from someone working in their backyard nicking a service line to machinery digging into a high pressure gas main during a big construction project.

Grady wants to see more vetting of the people doing work outside her home, because for her, it’s not so much about what happened, as what could have.

"I don't want to be disparaging about people and their qualifications, but for whatever reason, it seems they could do a better job,” she said. "You're just more aware, especially since Sun Prairie. It's like well heck, it could have been. And it wasn't, thankfully."