February 25, 2013

Drilling that led to deadly blast near the Plaza had no permit

Kansas City officials say no permit was issued to the company drilling outside JJ’s before the explosion and fire that leveled the restaurant.

Kansas City officials say no permit was issued for the trenching operation that authorities believe led to the deadly explosion and fire that leveled JJ’s restaurant a week ago.

Prior to the blast, a worker for Heartland Midwest LLC called 911 to say his crew had hit an underground gas line while boring near the restaurant to install cable for Time Warner Cable. The explosion at 6:04 p.m. last Tuesday killed one person and injured 15.

The attorney representing Heartland did not respond when asked to comment.

Digging without a permit is a violation of city ordinances punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. City Prosecutor Lowell Gard said it will be up to the codes department to decide whether to press charges.

City spokesman Pat Klein said the company applied for the permit in an email the day after the blast.

Although city officials said no one requested a permit for the dig, the company did notify utility companies on Feb. 6 of its intention to do trenching work in the vicinity of JJ’s, 910 W 48th St., according to Missouri One-Call, the nonprofit organization set up so utilities can mark the location of their underground lines prior to excavation.

Heartland called again on the morning of the blast to ask to have the lines remarked, which is required when those markings deteriorate due to weather and other factors, said Derek Leffert, damage prevention manager at Missouri One-Call.

The responsibility for accurate markings belonged to Missouri Gas Energy, which hires a private contractor to perform that work. A Missouri Gas Energy official said Monday he had no knowledge about the status of the markings on the day of the dig.

In the hours leading up to the fire and explosion, one of JJ’s customers, lawyer Julie Anderson, reported hearing workers discuss those markings.

“There were guys who were yelling at each other, ‘Who marked this?’ ” Anderson said.

Those markings will be among the factors looked at by the Missouri Public Service Commission, which is conducting a months-long investigation, said Bob Leonberger, pipeline safety program manager.

Leonberger said commission staff expects to interview dozens of people and look at all aspects of the incident, from its cause to the emergency response.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration is also looking into the blast.

The Kansas City Fire Department still plans its report on the incident sometime this week, a department spokesman said, but City Manager Troy Schulte said it might not be until next week.

The Star’s Judy L. Thomas contributed to this report.

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