Posted at: 06/28/2013 7:01 PM
By: Steve Flamisch
ALBANY -- Albany County Executive Dan McCoy on Friday asked state regulators to investigate National Grid's handling of the manhole cover explosions that have rocked downtown Albany over the past 10 months.
McCoy made his announcement outside the Times Union Center, which lost power for about two hours Thursday when an underground cable smoldered and released gas, causing pressure that blasted a manhole cover several inches into the air. It dislodged again Friday while the utility was testing its repairs.
"They need to do better," McCoy told reporters. "They need to get in there. Look. They've got investors. They make money. Well maybe they don't make as much money this year, and they invest in the system today so this problem stops."
McCoy expressed concern that someone could be killed or injured by a flying manhole cover.
The Times Union Center's general manager, Bob Belber, echoed McCoy's safety concerns and noted that money is at stake, as well. If a performance were cut short by a power outage, the arena and the county could be on the hook, he said.
"The county would ultimately be responsible for some of these financial problems," Belber said. "It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars involved if a performer has to stop a show in the middle of it because the power went out."
National Grid is already working to fix the problem, spokesman Patrick Stella said. Over the last two years, the utility has invested $1.6 million to replace 7,500 feet of aging underground cable. An additional 15,000 feet of cable will be replaced in the coming months.
"National Grid is working tirelessly to address the concerns," Stella said in an e-mail to NewsChannel 13. "Safety is the number one priority at National Grid. Every day, significant steps are taken to keep the public and our employees as safe as possible around our natural gas and electric facilities."
MAYOR QUESTIONS MCCOY
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, once a staunch critic of National Grid, came to its defense Friday. He said utility crews are "working very hard" to replace the underground cables, and that managers are keeping the city informed with weekly updates.
"They're doing what we asked them to do: basically asses what's underground, replace what has to be replaced," Jennings said. "It really has turned into a good relationship with us."
Jennings said he did not know McCoy had planned a press conference. He questioned its timing and purpose.
McCoy said he had drafted letters to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) and the state Division of Consumer Protection, asking them to investigate National Grid.
In a statement, PSC spokeswoman Pamela Carter said her agency was already involved.
"The Public Service Commission is investigating what transpired and is closely monitoring what steps National Grid is taking to address these manhole cover incidents," Carter said. "The Commission expects National Grid to do everything in its power and to work with deliberate speed to prevent further incidents and to quickly repair any damage resulting from these incidents."
TIMELINE OF TROUBLE
At least eight incidents involving manhole cover explosions or underground fires have occurred in Albany since last September, according to NewsChannel 13's archives. They are:
September 19, 2012 - An underground fire causes eight manhole covers to explode in Downtown Albany, forcing building evacuations and street closures; surveillance video shows a fiery blast at the intersection of Chapel St. and Steuben St.
September 26, 2012 - An underground explosion closes part of North Pearl St. and knocks out power to 3,700 customers
December 19, 2012 - An underground fire causes power outages in the area of North Pearl St. and Pine St.
March 23, 2013 - Two manhole covers explode near Broadway and Clinton St., causing slight damage to the Olde English Pub
April 16, 2013 - A manhole cover on Madison Ave. blows about one foot off its hole near the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
May 6, 2013 - Two manhole covers dislodge near Jack's Oyster House on State St.
May 23, 2013 - A short circuit inside an underground electrical vault causes smoke to billow from a grate on Sheridan Ave. near the Victory Cafe
June 27, 2013 - A manhole cover blasts several inches into the air outside the Times Union Center, and is dislodged again while National Grid tests its repairs the next day
No injuries were reported following any of the incidents listed above.