Ignacio gas system maintenance, safety procedure, and record keeping issues are being resolved, according to the town manager and public works director.
Former town public works employee Robert Overturf raised the issues in May and has pressed Town Manager Lee San Miguel and Public Works Director James Brown for responses and fixes. Town trustee Tom Atencio also grilled Brown and San Miguel on safety issues.
In August, the town received non-compliance letters from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for its gas system maintenance procedures and record keeping or lack thereof. The town faced potentially huge fines of up to $100,000 per day of violation.
An Aug. 1 notice of probable violation was based on a July 14 PUC inspection. It cited requirements for monitoring of corrosion control devices known as cathodic protection anodes, with prompt remedial action for any deficiencies. This applies to about two miles of steel pipe in the town's gas distribution system.
The letter cited several years of records indicating "substantial portions of the system" were out of compliance for cathodic protection. It also cited incomplete or missing records, with records completely missing for 2007 to 2009 and for 2011, and significant gaps for 2013.
It also cited lack of prompt remedial action, with 14 anodes needing to be installed to meet cathodic protection standards. An anode is an electrode through which positive electric charge flows into a polarized electrical device.
The notice proposed a $10,000 fine but cancelled it out with credit for compliance training in 2013. It left another $4,972 penalty in place and gave the town a Dec. 31 deadline to develop plans to address the cathodic protection violations and update pipeline safety compliance records.
The town got another PUC warning letter dated Aug. 22 about a May 29 inspection of the town's gas system operation and maintenance records. It cited deficiencies in the town's gas operation manual and other problems.
San Miguel wrote to the PUC that the 14 anodes were installed. He said that by Dec. 31, the town would identify a person in charge of this, develop a long-term plan to address cathodic protection issues, and continue to use Google Drive for system records. Google Drive is an external digital storage service that allows users to access their data from anywhere at anytime, as long as they are authorized users.
San Miguel asked for the $4,972 penalty to be used to pay gas system consultant Wes Whitley to help resolve the issues.
He responded on Sept. 22 to items in the second PUC warning, including that a town consultant would make needed changes in the operatoins manual.
PUC accepted San Miguel's proposed use for the $4,972 penalty from the Aug. 1 letter, but the agency warned the town needed to document its compliance efforts to avoid future penalties.
PUC responded with a Sept. 29 letter that the issues from May 29 were adequately resolved. It also said, "It should not be assumed that the gas pipeline safety audit detected all probable violations existing at this time. It is incumbent upon the operator to review its operations to determine whether there are other areas of noncompliance."
Former employee Overturf, who resigned in late April, submitted a list of gas system concerns, and issues he had with Public Works Director Brown, for the Sept. 17 town board meeting, which Overturf did not attend.
At that meeting, San Miguel said all the PUC issues had been addressed. He said the complaints about Brown were personnel issues and not for public discussion. "There were some miscommunications but no violations," he said.
At the Oct. 1 board meeting, San Miguel said a current public works employee had been assigned to update gas system records by Dec. 31 to satisfy the PUC, and to keep the records up to date.
San Miguel insisted that the PUC letters have been warnings, not violations.
There was extensive discussion at the Oct. 1 meeting about missing records and ability to access records that weren't missing. San Miguel and Brown said data had been deleted in April during the time that Overturf was the one keeping records up to date. It was deleted off Brown's computer and the iPad Overturf had been using, they said.
They asserted that Overturf set up the Google Drive account in his own name instead of the town's, so only he could make changes on that account. San Miguel suggested copying the data and putting it into a new Google Drive account in the town's name. Last week he told the Times that is being done.
Overturf was not at that meeting. The Times contacted him about the allegations of data being deleted. In an e-mail reply, he wrote that he gave control of the Google Drive account to San Miguel, as he had told Mayor Stella Cox. Brown and San Miguel "are just hiding a bunch of stuff," he wrote. Overturf added, "I will take that to court if needed."
At the Oct. 15 board meeting, Public Works Director Brown said, "We've been making great strides with the gas system," including a new employee certified to do work on the system. He predicted gas system issues cited by the PUC would be resolved by Nov. 30, a month before the PUC deadline.
"There were some things we found ourselves, a couple pages of things" to be addressed, Brown said.
San Miguel added, "We're taking it a step beyond. ... It's almost like a check list" for each maintenance and repair process. Brown said town employees are now training with Southern Ute utilities staff. "There's a lot more field training instead of book work," he said.
San Miguel told the Times last week, "None of these are the issues Robert Overturf brought up. The things he brought up weren't violations."
He also said the town has been approved for a $500,000 state grant to replace about a mile of steel gas main with polyethylene pipe, which eliminates the corrosion issue.