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Columbia Co. fire chief calls growing number of gas leaks 'outrageous'

Gas leaks in Columbia County

The Fire Chief says that there's been a large increase in the number of gas leaks in Columbia County this year due to construction in the area. (WRDW-TV / Sept. 19, 2011)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

COLUMBIA CTY., Ga. -- With expansion projects come bumps in the road and now those bumps are gas leaks.

It seems like we're constantly warning you about another gas leak in Columbia County.

Just last week, neighbors were evacuated and roads were closed when a crew struck a line on Columbia Road. Some leaders say it's a dangerous problem that's getting out of control.

The Martinez-Columbia fire chief says they've received more than 30 calls for gas leaks so far this year. Last year, there were only nine.

"It is sort of outrageous," said Fire Chief Doug Cooper.

Cooper is talking about the dozens of gas leaks so far this year, and the numbers keep adding up. There was one in March in Evans that evacuated six homes. There was another last month on South Old Belair Road.

"In fact the phone rang from the fire department a minute ago and I thought there was another one. Pretty much when they call, I think that's what it is during the day," said Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pam Tucker.

The fire department has to stand by to make sure there is no ignition source that's in the area, Tucker said.

And the cost to stand by is not cheap.

"It costs us in between $1,500 and $2,000 to run on a gas leak," Cooper said.

And when the fire department is called out to a scene of a gas leak, they can be out there for several hours.

"If I've got people going out to stand by a gas leak for four or five hours, I have to call in people to back fill the station because we still have other emergencies going on," Cooper said.

The manpower dollars add up and so does the toll on the massive trucks.

"They're extremely heavy and they wear out the tires quickly and plus they get about 6 miles to the gallon in fuel," Cooper said.

The county admits the majority of the leaks have been caused by its own crews working to install more than 200 miles of fiber-optic cable across the county.

"They do the locates and just can miss it by that much and hit a line. When you have those county-wide massive construction projects you know you can probably expect this," Tucker said.

They may expect it and may be ready for it, but Cooper would like to see things cool off.

"I just wish they would watch what they're doing a little bit better," he said. "I really wish they would be more careful."

These gas leaks can also be dangerous -- even deadly. So far, no one has been injured in Columbia County. They expect about 45 leaks by the end of the year.

The EMA director says a few years back Knology laid cable down across the county and caused a similar number of gas leaks.

As for the broadband project, it is on track and moving along. This week crews are working on Furys Ferry near Stevens Creek Elementary.

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