Gas line break causes 41⁄2-hour Hwy. 62 closure

Friday, May 20, 2011 ~ Updated 6:17 PM
Motorists traveling along U.S. Hwy. 62 west of Berryville Tuesday were forced to take a detour onto state and county roads, some unpaved, to avoid a section of roadway where a major natural gas transmission line was punctured by a construction crew. Directing traffic at the east end of the closed section were Carroll County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Bailey and Berryville Police Officer Jean Pierre LaChapelle. Anna Mathews / CCN

BERRYVILLE -- Multiple agencies rushed to the scene of a high pressure natural gas pipeline leak that occurred Tuesday west of Berryville when a construction crew punctured a major transmission line.

Nearby residents in the Pleasant Valley area were evacuated. The gas leak also caused the closure of a section of U.S. Hwy. 62 for four and one-half hours.

Motorists traveling the busy roadway were routed around the site by way of state and county roadways, some unpaved.

It all began around 11 a.m. when the crew responsible for replacing and relocating a high pressure Arkansas Western Gas pipeline punctured the line with a tooth from a track hoe bucket. The work was being done to make way for a highway widening project.

Assistance was immediately summoned and the roadway closed.

Responding were AWG representatives, county and city law enforcement officers, and firefighters from both Eureka Springs and Berryville.

Rich Davis, manager of business and governmental affairs with AWG, said he received notice around 10 a.m. that a contractor had pierced the six-inch steel high-pressure gas line, which is the main feed to Eureka Springs.

He said they immediately responded by sending crews to the site who quickly reduced the line's pressure at a nearby regulator station.

"They reduced the flow and got a clamp around the pipe," Davis explained.

That effort took nearly five hours to complete.

Assisting at the scene were Berryville and Eureka Springs firefighters.

Carl Goins, with Berryville's volunteer department, said they responded and immediately set up a command center, secured the area, evacuated nearby residents, and rerouted traffic with help from county and city law enforcement agencies.

They had been trained for such emergencies, he said, and had responded to low pressure leaks in the past, but never a high pressure leak such as this.

He said they stayed on the scene the entire time to help AGW crews secure a clamp around the pipe.

Goins said they did this by using a fire hose to "wash out" the ditch area while workers used picks and shovels to dig out dirt to make way for the sleeved clamp. The water action, Goins explained, eliminated the risk of sparks from the shovels and picks.

Eureka firefighters, he said, provided bottles of compressed air for the self contained breathing apparatus that AWG workers used at the scene.

Those workers arrived with their own, two bottles each, he said, but with a one hour maximum capacity each -- they wouldn't last for the duration of the task at hand.

Berryville had its own bottles, Goins said, with a 30 minute capacity, but Eureka had double that capacity with one hour each.

"They brought spare bottles of compressed air and ran back to Eureka to refill them," Goins said. "Eureka did a shuttle to keep them in air."

Davis said he appreciated all the help from county and city law enforcement agencies and from the firefighters who assisted workers at the scene. He said AWG stepped up its level of safety for its workers in recent years. Instead of arriving at a leak site in jeans and T-shirts they now wear fire resistant suits and self-contained breathing apparatus.

Davis said it was unfortunate that the leak occurred along a busy highway and traffic had to be rerouted.

He also noted that because of the cooperation of police and firefighters, they were able to quickly secure the scene and fix the problem.

Asked if the contractor could face consequences for the puncture, Davis said, "We're still looking into it."

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