Gas line struck by subcontractor that caused house explosion in Wappingers Falls wasn’t marked, officials say
The aftermath of Thursday’s natural gas explosion in Wappingers Falls looked like a war zone. Rescuers rushed to a scene of burning debris on Brick Row and helped multiple victims. The natural gas explosion was heard for blocks.
The Dutchess County Office of Emergency Management says the Central Hudson subcontractor, J. Mullen & Sons Inc., followed procedure by calling UDigNY during gas line upgrades in the neighborhood before digging, but that the old line they hit wasn’t marked.
“Is there aging infrastructure in New York? Absolutely,” says UDigNY Executive Director Kevin Hopper. “I think an incident like this provides an opportunity for us to learn.”
Hopper says utility companies perform their own site checks when UDigNY is called and that they mark lines using metal detectors and maps, but in some cases when lines are very old it’s not always clear where they are.
“We certainly can update our technology and our standards,” Hopper says.
New lines with a type of GPS technology, called a geographic information system, would fix the problem but not all of them have it, according to Hopper.
“Our mission is to stop this from happening,” says Hopper. “When it happens and people are impacted, it’s tough.”
Fifteen people were injured in the blast and blaze, according to officials, including two children and five first responders.
The federal and state government has invested billions of dollars in recent years for infrastructure upgrades. However, that does not include gas line repairs, according to state officials who say these expenses are paid for by rate increases approved by the Public Service Commission.
Central Hudson says $120 million has been invested in gas line upgrade since 2021.
According to J. Mullens & Son’s website, the company has been in business since the 1980s, are state licensed and certified, and have a list of big name clients – including Central Hudson and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Central Hudson has been the focus of recent controversy for its billing practices and its rate increase request with the Public Service Commission. In February, the company’s CEO and President, Charles Freni, resigned.
Central Hudson’s Director of Media Relations Joe Jenkins tells News 12, “Our thoughts continue to be with the residents, contract workers and responders who were injured and impacted by the tragic incident in Wappingers Falls. Central Hudson is focused on providing assistance for immediate needs to those who were affected including support with lodging and meals.”
Jenkins says the company is working with authorities as they conduct their investigation into the tragedy.
Dutchess County officials say the Wappingers Falls Police Department is leading the probe into the explosion and that representatives from the PSC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration also responded to the emergency.
Hopper says roughly 600,000 excavations were done in New York state in 2022 and that an incident like Thursday is rare, but a possibility – when it comes to aging gas lines.