San Francisco Halts Construction Project After Repeated Gas Leaks

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The city has shut down an infrastructure project in the Haight after five gas leaks. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

On Friday, San Francisco officials suspended work on a major infrastructure project that's been linked to a series of gas leaks during the last five months.

A contractor hired by the city of San Francisco began replacing sewers, installing water mains and repaving streets in the Haight in April. Since then workers involved in the project have hit gas distribution lines, causing leaks, five times.

"When the first gas leak happened there were a lot of concerns, [from] merchants and residents in the area," said Supervisor London Breed, who represents the district. "When it happened a second time I pretty much went ballistic. The thing is this is compromising public safety."

Breed says she wants the contractor replaced.

"It doesn't give us a lot of confidence that the folks who are out there doing the work know what they're doing," she said.

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The main contractor, Ghilotti Brothers, says they're taking all the measures available to rectify the situation. They blamed a subcontractor for the leaks. But, they say, the gas lines were not properly marked.

The first leak occurred on the first day of construction on April 29. The California Public Utilities Commission investigated that leak and concluded that the line was properly marked and no violations were committed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co..

But marking errors have caused serious problems in the past, including an explosion that destroyed a home in Carmel last year. A report commissioned by the CPUC released Thursday found that PG&E has failed to "ensure operating maps and data are updated and accurate" and "failed to mark out and inspect its gas lines in the area of excavation."

Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for San Francisco Public Works, said that Ghilotti Brothers is responsible for all work done.

"We are in consultation with our city attorney, we're looking at all our options," she told KQED News.

This is the second time the city has halted work on the project that stretches from Laguna Street to Ashbury Street on Haight Street and from Clayton Street to Market Street on Hayes Street. Gordon said she hopes to begin work again soon.

"We want to get the neighborhood back as close to normal as we can in terms of getting the construction done there. But we want to make sure that it's done right and it's done safely," she said.