Pacific Gas and Electric Company will soon be doing work around Turlock, but not on the gas lines. Instead, the company will be relocating a number of trees in town in an effort to make it easier for first responders to access gas transmission lines in the event of an emergency situation.
The program — called the Community Pipeline Safety Initiative – is part of an overall safety program PG&E has implemented in the wake of the deadly gas line explosion that killed eight and destroyed more than three dozen homes in San Bruno in 2010.
As part of the safety review process, PG&E heard from first responders that immediate access to gas transmission lines is a key issue during an emergency.
"Folks had planted trees and shrubs, even put sheds on top of transmission lines, and in some cases a pool was built right on top of the transmission lines," said Jeff Smith of PG&E Corporate Relations.
All of these obstructions make it difficult — if not impossible — for emergency crews to reach main gas lines when needed.
"It is really the same reason you can’t park your car in front of a fire hydrant. Firefighters don't necessarily need access to the hydrant on a regular basis, but during an emergency they need it immediately," said Smith.
Using an advanced aerial Global Positioning System search, PG&E identified 276 trees in the Turlock service area that could potentially prove to be obstructions to gas line access, said Smith.
PG&E has already sent letters to 27 property owners in Turlock asking for permission to move or replace trees on their property. Any re-landscaping required would all be done at PG&E expense, and with the property owners' approval.
"We want to make sure that every property owner is satisfied with the results," said Smith.
PG&E has also identified a number of trees on public property that need to be removed or relocated for safety reasons.
The City is working with representatives of PG&G to come up with a plan that would improve access to the gas lines, but still align with the City's planning ordinances in regards to screening commercial developments with vegetation, said Turlock Director of Development Services and City Engineer Mike Pitcock.
All development plans in Turlock are sent to PG&E to inspect for any difficulties in regards to gas lines, but the company has never commented on tree placement in the past, said Pitcock.
"As development continues, I expect PG&E will be more proactive with recommendations," said Pitcock.