Restoration of natural gas on Aquidneck Island could take days


    A National Grid crew works to restore natural gas service to Newport and Middletown, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (WJAR)

    Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday that National Grid crews will need to go door-to-door to shut off natural gas meters inside homes and business on Aquidneck Island before it can repeat the effort, building by building, to turn gas service back on.

    She said the effort could take a week, with National Grid noting it will likely take three days to fully shut down the system, as well as another four days to bring it back online.

    "This situation is still very serious," Raimondo said. “Everybody needs to make a plan to get into a warm safe place.”

    National Grid said it suspended service to about 7,100 natural gas customers in the Newport area Monday night because of an issue from its supplier that caused low pressure. Raimondo declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to help with the response.

    The utility company, which said it will have 1,000 people working on the restoration process, opened a customer information center at Gurney's Newport Resort at 1 Goat Island. There, hundreds of people who have been frozen out of their homes, are scrambling to find accommodations for a number of days.

    “We had hoped to stay in the house with a space heater in the bedroom but we woke up and it was 44 degrees so we had to get out,” Christine Marcoux told NBC 10 News.

    She, John and Willy, along with their dog, Denali, are all headed for a hotel, as are thousands of other people from Newport and Middletown.

    “We checked in for two nights. And then this morning, I thought we’d check in for longer, but they said, ‘Too late, sold out,’” she said.

    National Grid said it plans to reimburse residents, which will be a hefty price tag.

    But Tim Horan, who is the president of National Grid Rhode Island, said the cost it’s not his main concern.

    “We’re going to figure that out at the right time, but right now we’ve got to address this issue,” Horan said. “This is our priority first and foremost.”

    Raimondo again urged anyone without heat to find another place to stay, whether it's a shelter, a hotel, or a friend or relative's house.

    Wind chills dipped below zero across Southern New England Monday night, but Raimondo said no fatalities, injuries or hospitalizations were reported Tuesday morning.

    Warming shelters were open at Gaudet Middle School at 230 Turner Road in Middletown and CCRI's Newport Campus at One John H. Chafee Boulevard.

    The governor said anyone needing assistance in finding a place to stay or transportation can call 211.

    National Grid said it will reimburse room costs for customers in need of lodging.

    National Grid said it would try to contact every home and business owner to gain entry to shut off meters. If owners cannot be reached, the utility said it would enter properties with a locksmith and a police officer. The utility and Newport's mayor defended the policy as critical to public safety.

    National Grid said every gas meter needs to be shut off by hand by a technician before the system can be re-pressurized. The utility will then go back to every home and business affected to relight gas appliances.

    “If National Grid has to enter a home without the resident there, they will not enter without a police officer with them. This is an issue of safety,” Mayor Jamie Bova said. “If they cannot turn off all of the valves, they cannot turn them back on anywhere.”

    Businesses are in the same boat. No heat and no hot water makes for no rooms at the Viking Inn.

    “The main thing was securing the safety of our guests on property and moving them out. And also alerting our guests, coming to our property. Do you have weddings coming up this weekend? We do, we do. We do have a wedding and I feel very confident that we will be hosting our wedding here at our property this weekend.”

    Horan said the interruption in service is due to a transmission supply issue from the company’s natural gas supplier, Algonguin Gas Transmission Co., which is owned by Enbridge Inc.

    Marylee Hanley, who is a spokeswoman for Algonquin Gas Transmission, said cold temperatures caused “significantly higher demand” for natural gas on the system, which resulted in the issue.

    “A temporary reduction in available natural gas supply into the Algonquin system exacerbated the conditions that led to this disruption in service,” Hanley said in a statement. “We are collaborating with the local gas company and working diligently to assist in any way we can with gas service restoration efforts. Safety and operational reliability remain our top priority.”

    Horan said anyone with questions can visit a customer service center on Goat Island beginning Tuesday afternoon. The company also compiled answers to frequently asked questions on its website.

    Raimondo again urged anyone without heat to find another place to stay, whether it's a shelter, a hotel, or a friend or relative's house.

    Wind chills dipped below zero across Southern New England Monday night, but Raimondo said no fatalities, injuries or hospitalizations were reported Tuesday morning.

    Warming shelters were open at Gaudet Middle School at 230 Turner Road in Middletown and CCRI's Newport Campus at One John H. Chafee Boulevard.

    The governor said anyone needing assistance in finding a place to stay or transportation can call 211.

    National Grid said it will reimburse room costs for customers in need of lodging.

    Newport Public Schools will be closed the rest of the week.

    A spokesman for the City of Newport said Newport City Hall will be closed Wednesday, while the City Council’s regular meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. has been cancelled. He added that a special Waterfront Commission meeting scheduled for Thursday concerning the updated Harbor Ordinance is also being rescheduled.

    If you lost your gas and heat, call 2-1-1 or contact National Grid at 1-800-640-1595.

    Click here for more information from National Grid.

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