On Friday morning, an Eversource crew began to dig up the yard in front of 1 Maple Street to repair a leaking gas line in response to residents’ complaints of a pervasive noxious odor for the past two weeks.
The Independent began investigating the issue Thursday after hearing of complaints from residents who said they smelled gas. At approximately 7:45 p.m., the Hopkinton Fire Department responded to a resident complaint about the odor at the intersection of Maple and Hayden Rowe Streets.
“If you stand in our driveway, there is the distinct smell of gas,” neighbor Todd Snyder said in a phone interview Thursday night. He is one of several residents who called 911 and complained to Eversource during the past two weeks. Snyder lives “15 feet away” from where the gas leak was detected.
“The smell is strong if the wind is right,” he continued. “We first smelled it coming through the window because the nights have been cool. I have to open the windows of my car in the morning before I go to work because the car fills up with the smell. Someone who works at Haven Beauty on Church Street said they can smell it all the way up there.”
Despite the persistent odor, no repair work began by Eversource until Friday morning. In an interview with the Independent late Friday morning, interim Fire Chief Gary Daugherty said he spoke with Eversource earlier in the day about the complaints and confirmed that “the leak in front of 1 Maple Street is scheduled for repair today.”
He added that the home at 1 Maple Street was checked at as a precaution, but no gas leak was detected inside.
Snyder said he had suspected the leak was coming from that property because of a patch of discolored grass there. Peter Bowker, the owner of 1, 3 and 5 Maple Street who has lived there for about 50 years, said in a phone interview late Thursday night that he also believed the leak was emanating from that spot.
“I mean, with all the rain we’ve had, you see all these lush green lawns on the street,” said Bowker. “And then there’s this brown spot. That made me stop and think.”
Bowker worked in the construction and home remodeling business for decades until his retirement about five years ago. He also owns and oversees several properties, which he said made him knowledgeable about potential tenant issues.
“As someone who owns and manages properties, I would prioritize people’s safety,” he said. “I would think that a public utility company would do the same.”
The situation reminded Bowker of the early-morning gas explosion that occurred at 65 Main Street on July 22, 2002. A four-unit apartment was decimated, and two young children were killed. The blast also shattered windows in nearby buildings, including the Fire Station.
“I still remember being woken up by that boom,” he said. “My fear with this gas smell is that it could happen again.
“An Eversource guy told me he learned about the Hopkinton explosion in a training video,” Bowker continued. “That’s nice, but what did he learn from it?”
Before Daugherty’s intervention, Snyder said the response to resident complaints followed a pattern of action.
“It has always been the same scenario,” according to Snyder. “First the Fire Department will come and analyze the situation, and the police will follow a little later. Then a white Eversource van will come and park outside for about 10 minutes. Someone from Eversource will speak to residents for a little while after that. Then the van goes away, and then nothing happens.”
Said Daughtery: “Since September 22, the HFD has responded to that neighborhood seven times for outside gas odors. Each time the incident commander smelled gas or got a reading on their meter, Eversource was contacted.”
Snyder said he observed a firefighter use a gas monitor at 1 Maple Street. He described a stake being driven into the ground and a hose being attached to it in order to detect the gas level.
During the incident Thursday night, an Eversource employee who did not identify himself inspected Snyder’s home while Snyder was on the phone with the Independent at around 8 p.m. After checking the basement, the employee was heard saying, “I’m gonna push to get it done. It doesn’t make any sense for all these man-hours to keep coming back and doing the same thing.”
In an email Friday afternoon, Eversource spokesperson Christopher McKinnon explained that Eversource was first made aware of the gas leak along Maple Street on Aug. 31.
“In accordance with protocol, we responded to the area to investigate,” he said. “Our crews identified a Grade 2 gas leak, which under state law is defined to be nonhazardous to people or property but requires a fix within a year. We dispatched a crew to inspect the area again after a resident in the neighborhood contacted us on Wednesday, and again determined this was a Grade 2 leak and the area was safe.”
Daugherty explained that the Department of Public Utilities governs the classification system for gas leaks, while “Eversource determines the grade of the leak.”
“Repairs to gas leaks are prioritized according to state law, and we work diligently to make all repairs as quickly as safely possible,” McKinnon said. “Our crews will be in Hopkinton to make repairs to this nonhazardous leak today.”
The Independent asked McKinnon if the repair was a patch and if the gas line would need to be replaced.
Responded McKinnon: “Repair work is ongoing. Our crews will determine and complete whatever repairs are necessary.”
“At times, people assume that the leak is a lot bigger than it is,” Daugherty explained. “This is because mercaptan is added to natural gas for safety since it is colorless and odorless. Mercaptan is a foul-smelling chemical that makes leaks easier to detect.”
If anyone ever smells gas, Daugherty advised residents to call 911 immediately.
“Do not assume someone else has called,” he said. “Also, do not smoke or use any item that may produce a spark.”