CASTLETON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Consumers Energy says it will use a temporary natural gas pipeline to get service back to thousands of Barry County customers while it fixes a leak in the permanent line.
The leak is on a 6-inch steel gas main that runs under the Thornapple River along Thornapple Lake Road near Nashville. Consumers says it became aware of the leak on Tuesday afternoon, but it wasn’t affecting customers. The situation got worse mid-day Wednesday. Video from passersby shows a spray of water in the river caused by the leak.
At that point, there was a loss of pressure that affected as many as 4,500 customers in the Hastings area. Customers were affected to the east and west of the Thornapple River, including the city of Hasting to the west and to about M-66 to the east.
Among the affected customers was the urgent care at Spectrum Health Pennock. On Thursday, urgent care patients were urged to seek virtual care or go to the walk-in clinic in Caledonia. Pennock Hospital was open as usual.
Consumers spokesman Brian Wheeler said Thursday that the utility didn’t yet know what caused the leak. It was investigating.
SOME COULD BE WITHOUT SERVICE FOR DAYS
Wheeler said that Consumers had to unhook all affected customers from the system, check that the temporary pipeline over the Thornapple River was working and then go back to light each customer’s pilot light.
“Once we’re confident that the bypass is working and ready to serve customers, then we connect people again. That means going door-to-door, going inside houses to relight the pilot lights, say on your furnace, to make sure that you have natural gas working safely in your home,” Wheeler explained.
Relighting was expected to begin Thursday. Wheeler said most customers should have service back by the end of the weekend. He urged patience and reminded people that they should wait for a Consumers worker to reconnect their gas to make sure it’s done correctly and safely.
“Hopefully a lot of people are going to see an improvement and return to normal today and tomorrow and along the way,” he said. “If somebody’s not at home, we’ll leave information behind so they can contact us and can schedule a time when they can come back to their home or business and we can relight their pilot light.”
With the temporary pipeline in place, the Jackson-based utility can get to work on boring a new permanent pipeline under the river.
“We’re not forecasting any impacts to customers at that point, when we do that work,” Wheeler said. “We are committed to getting the job done, getting it done fast and getting it done right for the community.”
NEIGHBORS COPE WITHOUT HEAT, STOVES
Jeremiah Smith, who lives in Hastings and whose home lost service, was among those who saw the geyser in the river Wednesday afternoon.
“I didn’t understand what was going on until Consumers started coming and trucks all over,” Smith said. “Then we found out the (pipeline) was shut down and in town where we work, we were shut down. We had to go home early and here we are.”
Smith said he hasn’t seen anything like this happen in the Hastings area.
“Not in this magnitude,” Smith said.
He and his wife Janet Smith don’t know when they’ll go back to work.
“Financially, it’s impacting us because we can’t work. Other than that, I guess it’s a free day off until it gets fixed. We’re going to make the best of the situation,” he said.
Janet Smith said her son is also unable to work as his restaurant is closed as well.
The gas outages come on top of significant flooding in some parts of town from recent storms.
Elden Shellenbarger has lived down the road from the leak since the 1960s.
“I woke up in the middle of the night. I said, ‘It’s getting kind of cold in here,'” he said.
He doesn’t have heat or warm water and can’t cook.
“I went to turn (the stove) on. It didn’t light, so I took this lighter, tried lighting it. No gas,” he said.
As the temperature in his home dropped to the low 60s, Shellenbarger planned on driving to get an electric heater.
“Barry County is probably out of them by now. May have to go to Grand Rapids, may have to go somewhere else,” he said.
The Smiths plan on eating takeout.
“We got a phone to call out. We can get some pizzas sent here. Other than that, it’s going to be a little tough but we’re going be alright,” Smith said. “Consumers are doing what they can.”
Affected customers with questions can call Consumers’ general and billing support line at 800.477.5050.