After a week, the gas outage in east Elyria Swansea is ongoing.
About 30 residents remain without gas services as of Wednesday morning, said Xcel Energy Spokesperson Michelle Aguayo.
On Tuesday evening, that number was around 50, said spokesperson Hollie Velasquez Horvath at a joint conference with District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca at Lorraine Granado Community Park.
On July 28, 700 residents lost service when a water pipe burst, flooding Xcel’s infrastructure and destroying residents’ gas meters.
“There was a water line break and the pressure of the water…drilled a hole into our gas pipeline, filling it with water, dirt and rocks,” Velasquez Horvath said. “It got so bad, the water shot to the meters. So we not only had to repair the pipes, we also had to go through each home to repair the meters.”
Denver Water Spokesperson Travis Thompson said the utility responded to “a leak on a customer-owned service line on the 4800 block of Steele Street.” Thompson said to the utility’s knowledge “Denver Water’s actions in repairing the water service line did not cause damage to the gas line at issue.”
It’s unclear whether Denver Water will continue to investigate the leak.
Velasquez Horvath said the water and gas lines are close to each other at a utility easement near 48th Avenue and Clayton Street. An easement is a designated area for utility lines either above or below ground.
Though the lines are supposed to be spread apart, Velasquez Horvath said overtime they moved closer together. Thompson also acknowledged that the gas line was too close to the water line.
Velasquez Horvath said the new gas lines are now about 4 to 5 feet away from the water line.
Initially, the utility said all services would be restored by Sunday, but that wasn’t the case.
Velasquez Horvath said the utility was still figuring out what happened and how to solve the problem Friday evening. Then, workers had to search through 2 miles of gas line to find the leak, which was a hole about the size of a golf ball.
“It’s not like a little bit of water shot into our pipe and we just had to fix that hole,” said Steve Martz, the director of gas engineering. “I’m talking tens of thousands of gallons of water got into our system and didn’t just stay in one place. It went to every single street, every little meter. So, part of [the delay] is trying to find where this stuff is.”
At the conference, CdeBaca and a few residents acknowledged that the outage was caused by unforeseen circumstances. However, the issue the community has with the utility company is the lack of communication.
“Nobody kept us in the loop,” CdeBaca said. “We’ve got major infrastructure projects in this neighborhood and for us not to know immediately how many houses were affected is a concern.”
The miscommunication felt by residents also led to a large rumor mill, CdeBaca said. Residents contacted her wondering if this was a planned maintenance, was it a part of Denver Water’s lead reduction program or whether it had to do with Interstate 70 construction.
Commerce City residents who attended the conference also echoed their confusion and wondered if their community was next.
CdeBaca also questioned whether the utility’s response would have been similar in Cherry Creek or Washington Park, two neighborhoods that are majorly white and middle class.
Elyria Swansea resident Terry agreed. She didn’t feel comfortable giving us her last name. She’s lived in the neighborhood for about three years near the utility easement and said utility workers came onto her property, turned the gas off and left without a word.
Her gas was turned on Monday night.
“It does feel like if I lived in a wealthier neighborhood, there would’ve been more communication,” Terry said. “The caveat is I’ve never lived in Cherry Creek during a gas emergency so I don’t have a control group to compare to… but if someone came onto my property that was a mansion, they probably would have told me that men would continue to come by. It felt like our home and our yard was just a free for all.”
Velasquez Horvath said the utility initially made reverse 911 calls to customers but by Saturday she realized canvassing would reach residents better.
With reverse 911 calls, the utility calls residents on the number listed in their system. However, those numbers might be old, not in service and sometimes not accessible to Spanish-speaking residents.
Then, if a call was missed, residents were stuck either waiting or calling back random numbers.
Terry said she wished there were text messages or email communication.
“We were just waiting for this phone call that may never come and hoping it had relevant information,” Terry said.
Ray Garcia has lived in Elyria Swansea for over 20 years. His gas was off for about a day and half but he agreed that the communication could have been better.
“We’re in the hood and people are just trying to survive,” Garcia said. “I think they could work on their communication skills. I think everything moved too fast for [Xcel]. They were trying to get in and get out with fixing things but it was too fast for them to communicate that with us.”
Velasquez Horvath said the outage was a “huge customer service improvement opportunity.”
“One thing we took away from this is that we can do better,” Velasquez Horvath said. “We can do better by not just depending on the 911 reverse calls. Once we got on the ground Saturday and started having conversations with residents and learning that the 911 calls weren’t reaching folks, we started canvassing and thinking differently. I think there’s a huge opportunity to do a better job communicating when we have outages.”
CdeBaca, Terry and a few other attendees suggested NextDoor posts and social media updates.
The lack of gas left residents without hot water and cooking access.
Velasquez Horvath said for the first time ever Xcel offered residents free food via food trucks and vouchers for showers at the Downtown Denver YMCA and a rec center in Commerce City.
The food trucks were taco stands, and one Commerce City resident said that though the area is “la raza” not everyone eats tacos.
But Velasquez Horvath said other stands were available but some residents didn’t like that food either. She also said that when Xcel was choosing the food trucks, they thought about hiring locally.
Marcos de los Santos manages the two trucks that were present Tuesday night and he runs Tacos Japla in Commerce City.
He said Xcel reached out to one of his trucks that’s been parked on Vasquez Blvd. and 48th Ave. for over eight years.
The trucks served dinner Friday, Monday and Tuesday and also served lunch on Saturday and Sunday.
“They reached out to us about seven in the morning on Friday,” de los Santos said. “Some of our workers live in the area, so we feel like we’re giving back to the community because they give to us. We help each other.”
Martz said Xcel has visited every home affected by the outage.
“The ones that don’t have gas service haven’t been home yet,” Martz said. “We have to go into the home to access the appliances to do a safe relight. So we’re waiting on access.”
Velasquez Horvath said the utility has left door notices and are also using Lorraine Granado Community Park as a home base.
If you’re experiencing issues or having trouble with appliances, you can call 1-800-895-4999 or head to the park.