Gas outage update: TECO blames Posen Construction for line break

TECO discusses plan for gas restoration

Keith Martin, Director of Gas Operations give ...

TECO President Speaks at Press Conference

Gordon Gillette discusses progress on restoring gas ...

Restaurants cope with gas outage

Some close, others offer limited menu

Ayla Akel is back in business.

On Monday morning, TECO crews restored gas service to both of her restaurants at Miromar Outlets in Estero. But she wasn’t smiling.

She was still frustrated, shaking her head over the business she lost over the weekend. She estimates she lost about $3,000 a day.

“It has been a disaster for me,” said Akel, who owns the Wok Kitchen and Luna Pizza.

“I don’t know who to point the finger at, at this moment. But for sure it’s not my fault,” she said.

In a press release sent out to the media after 7 p.m. Monday, TECO blamed Posen Construction for the gas line break.

More than 7,000 TECO customers lost gas service on Thursday after a heavy equipment operator working on the widening of Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers hit a main gas line, causing an explosion.

TECO officials claim the test stations and line markings identifying the gas pipe on Colonial Boulevard were destroyed during the road’s widening project. Despite warnings to not dig until lines could be remarked, TECO claims Posen “proceeded with the construction work, which resulted in the line break.”

Posen could not be reached for comment as of press time Monday.

Some TECO Peoples Gas customers are getting their service restored much quicker than others. The first priority has been on restoring service to hospitals, nursing homes and other large commercial customers.

As of Monday night, service had been restored to 990 residential and 920 commercial customers. The focus was on the Fort Myers area, from Gladiolus Boulevard south to Williams Road, and in Collier County from south of Vanderbilt Beach Road to Rattlesnake Hammock Road.

The service area affected by the break stretches about 50 miles, from downtown Fort Myers at the northern tip to southeastern Collier County, ending at the Fiddler’s Creek golf community.

Losses for local businesses continue to mount. But it’s hard to put a finger on those losses. No estimates have surfaced from local chambers or economists.

“I don’t have numbers, but much of the impact would be due to diners assuming restaurants were closed, and staying home. Some restaurants reported they were packed over the weekend. Others said they were slow the first couple of nights and then business picked up,” said Beth Preddy, a spokeswoman for Naples Originals, a consortium of independent restaurant owners.

Many restaurants rewrote their menus so they could continue serving customers, switching to cold foods or cooking out on propane-powered grills. That wasn’t possible for Akel.

“I just had to shut down,” she said. “There was nothing I could offer.”

Jack Wert, Collier County’s tourism director, said losses could have been worse for area hotels. Those who lost gas did not see mass cancellations, despite not having hot water for showers or laundry.

“We seem to have worked our way through it,” he said.

He’s not sure if any hotels or their employees will try to make claims.

“At this point, I don’t have any reports of any big losses,” Wert said.

By the end of Monday, TECO expected to have visited and turned the gas meters off for 100 percent of its affected customers. That’s the first step of restoration.

“From the time of the incident, we have been committed to a safe restoration,” said Peoples Gas President Gordon Gillette at a press conference on Monday.

On Monday, crews were turning gas back on in both counties, fanning out to neighborhoods, shopping centers and industrial parks. They began turning off meters early Friday.

Cici’s Pizza off Immokalee Road in North Naples got its gas restored at about 5 p.m. Monday to the relief of the general manager Philip Santucci. Earlier in the day, the nearby dry cleaners got its service back, but Santucci was told he’d have to wait because the TECO crews had to go somewhere else first. They returned hours later.

Santucci estimates his losses at about $15,000, including the food that spoiled over the weekend. That doesn’t include the wages his employees lost.

Wayne Keller, a residential construction worker with TurnKey Construction in Naples, stopped at Cici’s for lunch on Monday, only to find the door locked and a typed note in the door apologizing for the inconvenience.

Keller didn’t notice the note right away.

“After I pulled on the door, I wasn’t surprised,” he said.

He looked for another nearby restaurant, heading toward Jason’s Deli in the same shopping center.

More than 200 support workers have been brought in from other parts of the state to help with the restoration. About 120 work for Peoples Gas. Another 50 are from Tampa Electric, a related company, and another 40 have been hired from Florida Public Utilities, a smaller gas company.

Keith Martin, TECO’s director of gas operations for the West Coast of Florida, described the progress made since Friday as “significant.”

To get service restored, customers must be at their home or business because it requires crews to relight the pilot lights to all of their gas-powered appliances.

Akel wasn’t at her pizza restaurant early Monday when a TECO crew arrived before 8:30 a.m. to restore the service there. She didn’t know anyone was coming. After seeing a note, she rushed to Wok Kitchen in time to catch them there. She was then able to get service restored at both restaurants.

“It’s unbelievable how fragile the whole system is,” Akel said. “They should have had some kind of back-up system.”

At the press conference, TECO officials noted that the system in Southwest Florida was relatively new, but that some of the company’s older systems have back-up feeds.

TECO has already started to receive claims, but it’s unclear whether the company will pay any of them.

When asked about the claims, TECO officials said they didn’t know how many phone calls they had received from local businesses about losses, but there have been “significant conversations.”

“I can’t talk about the companies and I don’t know enough about the claims,” said Rick Morera, a company spokesman.

Whether TECO will pay claims will depend on what the investigation into the line break reveals, Gillette said.

It appears the investigation won’t take that long.

“I honestly think we are going to get to the bottom of this pretty quickly,” Gillette said. “The facts and the circumstances are pretty clear.”

He recommends that customers wait until after the investigation concludes before deciding whether to make a claim with TECO. If the accident is found to be out of TECO’s control, it will not be responsible to pay for any customer losses, he said.

For service questions or more information, residential customers should call 877-832-6747 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-832-6747      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-832-6747      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-832-6747      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Commercial customers should dial 239-690-5507.

OTHER STORIES ABOUT THE GAS OUTAGE:

Restaurant openings/closings due to the gas line explosion

Room service: Hotels struggle to keep guests happy during gas outage

Natural disaster: Gas outages cause financial setbacks, cold showers

Can businesses collect lost revenue from gas line break?

Some businesses gain as others scramble to avoid loss from gas main break

Gas explosion victim, Bonita Springs soccer star, critical in Tampa hospital

Restaurants improvise kitchens, menus during gas outage

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