City to pay $105,000 fine to PSC

The Georgia Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved in a 5-0 vote a consent agreement between the PSC and the city of Cairo that includes specific demands of the city, as well as civil penalties.
The consent agreement is the result of the Sept. 28, 2010, natural gas fire that claimed the life of city gas crew member Wendell Harrison and injured several other gas crew personnel.
As part of the agreement the city will pay $105,000 in fines to the PSC.
Last week, the Cairo City Council met behind closed doors to discuss the proposed agreement with Albany attorney Robert J. (Bob) Middleton Jr., who has represented the city in negotiations with the PSC since the first of the year.
According to Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, Middleton briefed the council on the results of his negotiations and explained to city officials the agreement that has been hammered out by the city with the PSC.
Under the terms of the agreement, the city is bound to come into full compliance with all federal and state rules and regulations and to remain in compliance without fail for a period of sixty (60) months or face a maximum civil penalty of $4,265,000.
Because of the city’s efforts since the tragic accident to bring the gas department into compliance and “in consideration of the extensive remedial action and training required,” the PSC is forcing the city to only pay $100,000 within 30 days of Tuesday.
Because of the city’s failure to produce a written incident report for the Sept. 28 accident within thirty (30) days of the incident, the city must pay a $5,000 fine. According to Addleton, the reporting requirement is a federal rule and PSC officials were not aware of the requirement until federal officials requested a copy of the report.
The agreement also requires the city to dedicate $50,000 for the “development and establishment of a regional natural gas safety training program.”
Under this stipulation, the city is required to employ an independent, third party expert(s) qualified in the classroom and field/practical instruction of first response classes, leak repair under pressure classes and fire training classes. The consent agreement calls for mandatory citywide training for the first response and fire training classes, but only gas department employees will be required to participate in the leak repair under pressure training.
The agreement mandates that each of the three required training classes be held within six months of the adoption of the consent agreement by the PSC.
Within 12 months of the agreement adoption, the city must also stage a major emergency response drill for a natural gas “incident.”
The city has also agreed to construct a fire detection and suppression training facility as part of the consent agreement negotiations. According to the PSC records, the city is planning to construct a three-story tower piped with natural gas for advanced training in leak detection and suppression, fire extinguisher training, foam suppression training, emergency and gas fire rescue, and for other training purposes.
Addleton says the $50,000 will be spent first for training and the emergency drill and any remaining funds would be invested in the training facility at the fire department.
“It is probably something that we would have to budget for to be able to complete it,” Addleton said.
Requirements included in the agreement that the city has already satisfied include:
Updating the city’s operations and maintenance manual and emergency manual; reevaluating the procedure manual; development of a construction manual; hiring of a gas superintendent; developing a timeline for staff training; providing a description of training; providing a list of staff who will perform covered tasks, as well as a list of the tasks the staff has been trained for and are qualified to perform; train all gas personnel in emergency response; and ensure that personal protection equipment is provided to gas department crew members.
The city, according to Addleton, is well on the way to meeting the following requirements that are to be completed by Oct. 28.
Qualifying each individual who performs a covered task on the gas system under its Emergency Procedures Manual.
Employing an independent, third party expert to assess and evaluate each of the procedures/tasks utilized by the city in its emergency procedures, operation and maintenance procedures, and any/all other manuals in use by the city to determine the appropriateness of the procedures/tasks included and any deficiencies.
Evaluation by the independent third party of the qualification of each individual who performs covered tasks on the gas system.
All qualifications required have been completed under the supervision and training of the independent third party expert.
Documentation has been prepared to show the pass/fail scores of each employee who has been qualified and the documentation is to show the specific manufacturer’s installation/operation and maintenance instructions under which the employee was qualified.
Between now and Oct. 28, the city must also inspect, service and map the location of all line valves in its system to ensure accessibility and safe operation of each valve.
The city is also required to identify, locate and make repairs where improper style 90 Dresser fittings, like the one in the Sept. 28 accident, have been installed.
Serving as the city’s third party, independent expert is David Peacock. City Manager Addleton says Peacock is a former gas superintendent with over 30 years of experience. Peacock is in Cairo each Tuesday to observe the training of gas crew personnel. The city manager says Peacock is paid on an hourly basis.
The agreement between the city and the PSC also requires for financial reporting to show that the required investments, over and above the general operating gas department budget, have been made in accordance with the consent agreement.
Also, the city must provide the PSC with monthly reports on the ongoing training and on any problems encountered during the month.
Both Addleton and Attorney Middleton are pleased with the consent agreement approved this week.
“In the end, it came out well, but only after some tough negotiations,” Addleton said.
Middleton, who has many years of experience in dealing with the PSC said, “We negotiated some changes I think are very positive. In fact, PSC Chairman Stan Wise was very complimentary and said it was a positive agreement.”
In the original draft of the agreement, the city was liable for the maximum civil penalty indefinitely. Through negotiations with the PSC staff, Middleton was successful in an ending date of 60 months being added.
The Albany attorney was also pleased with the PSC agreeing to allow $50,000 of the civil penalties being redirected and used for training, the emergency drill and construction of the training facility.
“That was a good outcome from the safety stand point,” Middleton said.
He added, “We worked well with the PSC staff and, although the agreement is not unique, we did have to think outside the box to come up with something creative and get away from just a fine.”
According to Middleton, “Cairo went into this only wanting to cooperate. It has been handled as well as it could be handled. It is unfortunate a life was lost, but the city is doing everything possible to become a model gas operator.”
Middleton has been paid $19,094.60 to date for legal services rendered.
Addleton describes the $4 plus million civil penalty as the “hammer over our heads.”
“We don’t need something hanging over our heads. It is our intent to do everything right, and we’ve got a gas superintendent who will make sure we do it that way,” Addleton said.
The city manager further stated, “I am confident we are where we should be or slightly ahead on our training. In fact, a PSC inspector was here last week and he commented on how pleased he was with what he saw.”
The city hired Tim Eubanks as the city gas superintendent on April 1 and he has managed the required training and repairs since joining the city staff.

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