What city is doing to make sure another hazard doesn’t occur

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Preventing another tank car fire will be discussed by city staff and City Council in the coming months. That’s according to City Manager Jim Estep and City Council members. On Aug. 23, a propane tank car at the Northern Energy (also known as Heritage Propane) storage yard located downtown at Nicolaus Road and J Street ignited, causing the evacuation of 4,800 homes and businesses. The evacuation lasted the afternoon of Aug. 23 through midnight Aug. 24. “We are looking at working with the propane company, ensuring that they have safe operating procedures in place,” Estep said Monday. The city is currently waiting for “regulatory agencies” to release a report on the incident, according to Estep. Those agencies include the Federal Railroad Administration and Cal OSHA. “Until we really know the cause and what went on there, it’s pretty hard to say what we will do,” Estep said. “We will continue to work with Heritage Propane to make sure they are safely operating and then act on any findings of the report.” Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt told The News Messenger on Friday that the tank car owner, Union Tank Car Company, will move the tank to another location and conduct a forensic investigation on the tank and its valving system. The tank will be inspected by attorneys today, according to John Healy, a California Public Utilities Commission inspector. Those attorneys will represent Union Pacific Railroad, Hertiage Propane and Union Tank Car Company, Healy said. “After that (inspection), the decision will be made where and when to move it,” Healy said. Whitt also said the city is waiting for the analysis of the tank car before knowing how to prevent another tanker fire. “We can’t jump to conclusions about how to prevent it until we know what caused it,” Whitt said. “There could be the outside chance that we might not even know what caused the ignition source.” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said there’s nothing he could do “to ensure that (a tanker fire) never happens again,” and that the propane yard is not the only hazard in Lincoln. “We have multiple tankers passing through town every day of the week several times a day, not only on the propane yard track but on the railroad tracks,” Shelgren said. “I’m more concerned about that. I think the immediate threat is what goes by on that railroad that I have no conttrol over. That’s a major concern.” Shelgren said his recommendation to the City Council and City Manager “is to review the city options, as far as the tanker yard goes.” “I think any time like this, you have to review to make sure they are operating as safetly as possible,” Shelgren said. The News Messenger asked Mayor Paul Joiner when he expected the prevention of future tanker fires to be discussed by the city. “I fully expect the issue to be raised at this Tuesday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting and direction given to staff to place the issue on a future agenda for discussion,” Joiner said. Councilman Tom Cosgrove directed city staff during Tuesday’s meeting to put a discussion about the tanker fire and other hazards within the city on a City Council agenda. Joiner was also asked if he had any suggestions to give to city staff regarding the prevention of another tanker fire. “I believe the city should allow the investigating agency to complete their work before evaluating what increased safety measures, if any, should be taken,” Joiner said. “These agencies are experts in their perspective fields and their evaluations will be, for me, an important guide in determining how to proceed.” The other four councilmembers were asked the same questions. Cosgrove said it’s “too early to be able to commit to any potential action at this point.” “That’s the reason we have to have the discussion,” Cosgrove said. “It’s an opportunity for us to give direction to staff about bringing information back to us so that we’ll be able to have a good, robust discussion about the incident.” Councilman Stan Nader said he would like to talk about the propane storage yard’s location. “We certainly want to talk about whether or not that’s the right location for a propane storage facility, in light of the fact that it’s so close to the high school,” Nader said. “When it was first built, the school wasn’t so close but the school has expanded.” If the business can’t be moved, Nader said, “we need to look at ways of greater security.” “One thing that’s proposed is that we build a berm around the facility,” Nader said. “We certainly want to implement any other security measures so there’s less of an impact.” Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he had plans to bring up the tanker fire during the council initiated business portion of Tuesday’s meeting if another councilmember didn’t bring it up. “This is a good opportunity for us not only to discuss the tanker fire but gas lines and any other liabilities,” Hydrick said. City Councilman Spencer Short said there are steps the city could take between now and the release of the report. “Some things we could do in the interim is just reviewing zoning regulations,” Short said. “We need to work with Heritage Propane to make this area as safe as possible. We are going to keep on working to make the facility safer.”