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Gas service expected back today in Pa.

March 12, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

MONT ALTO, Pa. - Classes will resume at the Penn State Mont Alto campus this morning after a malfunction in a natural gas substation Sunday morning caused more than 1,800 residential and commercial customers to go without service.

Nearly 80 Columbia Gas employees from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia worked Sunday and throughout the day Monday to restore service.

By 6 p.m. Monday, service had been restored to more than 600 customers, said Rob Boulware, spokesman for Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania. He works out of the company's Pittsburgh office, but he spent Monday in Chambersburg, Pa.

All customers can expect to have their service back sometime today, Boulware said.

The malfunction was discovered after a Mont Alto-area customer called the company around 9 a.m. Sunday complaining that the gas service was out. Workers tracked the problem to a malfunctioning heater at the regulator station in Mont Alto.

The regulator reduces pressure from an incoming high pressure gas line and sends it through the local pipeline network, Boulware said. Columbia buys the gas from other companies, he said.

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Customers in Greene and Guilford townships, Mont Alto and north to the South Mountain area lost service, officials said.

Once the problem was located, gas to the line was shut off. The system was purged of remaining gas and air.

It took until 7 a.m. Monday to cut service to all 1,800 customers. An hour later workers began the task of putting it back into service, Boulware said.

Before the gas could be turned on again gas company workers had to ensure that pilot lights were relighted and appliances working correctly, a process that has to be repeated in each home and business, Boulware said. "Safety is our biggest concern," he said.

Workers have maps listing addresses of each customer, he said. "This is an unusual event, but we have a great crew working on it," Boulware said.

Crews were expected to work through Monday evening, he said.

Chris Bailey, administrator at the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg, Pa., said the center lost its gas service.

He said none of the 161 residents were affected because the center has an auxiliary oil-fired heating system that kicked in.

"We have a 10,000-gallon underground tank," Bailey said. "We could have gone on for days."

Area volunteer fire departments, including Fayetteville and Mont Alto, set up emergency shelters that a few people took advantage of, Boulware said. Gas company workers took breaks at the Mont Alto Fire Department, he said.

The Red Cross also helped.

Holly Cieri, spokeswoman at Penn State Mont Alto, said students were returning to the campus Sunday following spring break.

One of the campus' three residence halls gets its heat and hot water through natural gas, she said. Students there had to double up with those in another residence hall that is heated by electricity, she said.

Cieri said gas service had resumed in the residence halls by 1:30 p.m. Monday. Crews then began to restore service to the college's academic buildings, she said.

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