Water project halt topic for New Hope

The Borough Council will discuss Tuesday whether to continue the moratorium on the pubilc water project that was halted when an explosion and fire razed a house after a contractor hit a gas line.

By: Linda Seida
   NEW HOPE — The Borough Council next week is expected to discuss whether to continue the limited state of emergency and moratorium on the public water project that has been in force since Feb. 7 when an explosion and fire razed a 200-year-old house after a contractor hit a gas line.
   Borough Manager John Burke said the moratorium could come up for discussion during the regularly scheduled agenda meeting March 8.
   One of the considerations will be an inability to obtain an evaluation of safety procedures by an independent expert. The night after the blast, borough officials said such an evaluation of safety procedures would be required before the work could continue.
   So far, the issue of liability has kept independent advisers from taking the job, according to Mr. Burke.
   "We will continue to seek someone," he said.
   In the meantime, authorities may have to look to borough personnel for the task of overseeing the water project that is being constructed in conjunction with the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority and Gilmore and Associates, the project’s engineer.
   "It’s not rocket science," Mr. Burke said. "It’s do what’s required by Pennsylvania state law when in the vicinity of gas lines. It’s observe the law."
   The contractor hired by the authority, Joao and Bradley Construction of Bethlehem, Pa., did not act properly when it used excavating equipment to dig within 18 inches of a gas line, according to PECO, which owns the gas lines.
   A PECO representative also said the site of the high-pressure line was properly marked, and the line was buried at the proper depth.
   The night after the blast, Steven Hudak, vice president of Joao and Bradley, declined to comment on PECO’s assertions except to say, "We are under counsel, and the insurance company has stepped up and begun to service the claim. We’re really not at liberty to say much more than that."
   Five people lost their homes in the explosion, including a newlywed couple and a 63-year-old grandmother with heart problems who resided with her son and grandson. Every possession within their apartments at 52 W. Ferry St. was lost. All have found temporary housing elsewhere in the borough.
   The results of an official investigation into the cause of the explosion are not in yet, according to Mr. Burke.
   According to the borough’s official Web site at www.newhopeborough.org, "The Borough Council, mayor and Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority agreed that all current construction projects involving the use of authority subcontractors will be delayed indefinitely until such time as the appropriate authorities have completed the investigations necessary to determine the cause of the Feb. 7, 2005, gas line explosion and the authority and all utility companies have prepared and implemented a safety and emergency response plan, satisfactory in all respects to the Borough Council president and mayor, to adequately and safely demonstrate that construction of BCWSA subcontracted projects may recommence without further danger, threat or harm, to the health, safety and welfare of the community."