PORTER RANCH, Calif. (FOX 11 / CNS) - Southern California Gas Co. agreed Tuesday to extend the amount of time relocated Porter Ranch-area residents will have to move back into their homes once a protracted natural gas leak in the area has been fixed.
From Phil Shuman:
No doubt the many residents of Porter Ranch in the far northwest reaches of the San Fernando Valley will be happy to hear So. Cal. Gas is very close to capping the leaky methane gas well that's impacted so many of their lives. But that doesn't end the problems for them.
The problem well still has to be inspected by the state to make sure the cement ''cap'' is really working, there are dozens of other similar wells that need to be checked out before they're back to full speed, the property values in the area have gone down and may not come back, and there are questions about what long term effects, if any , there may be on the health of the thousands of people that live here, thousands of whom have been relocated at Gas Company expense.
Will the headaches, nosebleeds, breathing trouble, and other issues go away. As the So Cal gas media relations official told me, candidly, '' it's going to take a while to re earn the trust of our customers ". That can officially be characterized as an understatement.
A previous agreement with the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office called for residents to move back within 48 hours, which residents and some city officials complained was not enough time. The new agreement gives residents up to eight days.
City Attorney Mike Feuer said the agreement "will help residents resume their daily routines on schedules that work best for them."
Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents the Porter Ranch area, called the previous 48-hour deadline "unreasonable and inhumane,'' and thanked Feuer and his office "for their tireless work to negotiate a more
compassionate plan for the safe return of relocated residents once the well is capped and verified.''
Gillian Wright, the Gas Co.'s vice president of customer services, said the company realizes the leak has been a disruption for residents and the utility "is pleased to offer more flexibility to support a smoother transition
Under the agreement, the Gas Co. will:
notify the the State of California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources once the leak is fixed, and if DOGGR finds that the leak is plugged, the agency will confirm it in writing;
- give Porter Ranch residents who were relocated in hotels up to eight days or seven nights to move back to their homes;
- pay the rent and other costs, such as utilities and gardening service, for the remainder of the lease term of residents' temporary housing;
- provide up to $500 in reimbursements for the moving expenses of residents who relocated to apartments or single family homes;
- decide on a case-by-case basis how to accommodate relocated residents with special circumstances, such as disabilities, with the Gas Co. also
- expected to consider issues raised by the City Attorney's Office and allow for a mediation process to take place if necessary; and
- make reasonable reimbursements on the mileage expenses for the rest of the school year incurred by parents who transport their children to schools outside of the Porter Ranch area.
As of Friday, nearly 5,700 households had been relocated out of the area, at Gas Co. expense. The leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility was discovered Oct. 23. A relief well being dug in hopes of capping the leak is
nearing completion, but it's unclear exactly when the leak will be plugged.
Gas Co. officials have said the final stages of digging the relief well will take time because of the delicate nature of the work as it intercepts the leaking well.
County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who pushed for residents to be given more time to move home, said he and county health officials still aren't satisfied with the new arrangement. He said the Department of Public Health is recommending that residents be given up to 30 days to move to ensure the effects of the massive leak have dissipated.
"Residents and school officials should have the confidence once the well is sealed that the area has been appropriately tested and assessed before the Gas Co. discontinues paying for relocation expenses,'' Antonovich said.
"These residents have been forced out of their homes and their children forced out of their schools. A 30-day return policy would be in the best interest of residents, students and schools.''
Antonovich asked that officials from the Gas Co. and county public health and fire departments provide an update to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.