Greenwood businesses affected by last year's gas explosion want PSE to pay up

SEATTLE -- The natural gas explosion in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood in March 2016 left behind crumbling walls and mold inside this gluten-free bakery.

“I want to apologize for me being so emotional, but on the 31st, a little bit over, it will be over for Kouzina” bakery, owner Eleni Henry said.

With no money to rebuild or relocate, Henry will lose everything she has worked for.

Kouzina is one of two dozen businesses either leveled or damaged after a gas line blew a hole in the heart of Greenwood almost a year ago.

“I believe and we believe that PSE (Puget Sound Energy) is culpable,” Taproot Theatre employee Nikki Visel said.

On Wednesday, a team of business owners demanded PSE pay up for the explosion.

"Make these businesses whole again,” Visel said.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission said PSE failed to properly disconnect and seal an abandoned gas line in 2004. The agency said it went unchecked for nearly 12 years before the explosion. On Wednesday, PSE pointed out that a final ruling has yet to be determined by the state but promised to help affected businesses.

“We will make it right,” PSE spokesperson Andy Wappler said.

Q13 News asked PSE if the process could be sped up in light of the struggle some businesses are facing.

“We will work to try to be faster, we know every day for small businesses it will be tough. Unfortunately, it’s pretty complex when you have insurance and legal,” Wappler said.

PSE says they have received 10 legal claims from Greenwood businesses, with seven of the 10 resolved.

But PSE would not reveal the outcome of the seven resolved cases so it’s unclear if all of those businesses received any money from PSE.

Businesses are not the only ones who want answers.

PSE provides gas lines to 800,000 customers across Western Washington.

“I have deep concerns that this situation is not repeated,” Greenwood resident Natasha Lewis said.

“It sends up a warning flag. Is there some systemic problem happening?” Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien asked.

O’Brien is pressuring PSE to not only compensate the damaged businesses but also to investigate other abandoned gas lines.

When Q13 News questioned PSE, they couldn’t tell us exactly how many abandoned pipe lines exist across Western Washington.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Wappler said.

But Wappler added that PSE was in talks with the UTC on Wednesday about the exact issue.

“Part of the process is that we have an accurate count and accurate locations,” Wappler said.

Wappler said they need to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to approach the abandoned gas lines so they do it properly and thoroughly.

But with no clear answers on how safe all the gas lines are or even when the assessments will begin, many are worried about public safety.

“That’s quite disconcerting when you tell me that they haven’t still disclosed that information,” Lewis said.

“As a society we need to know that our vital infrastructure is well-secured,” the G &O Cyclery owner said.

UTC says they are working with PSE to find out more on the agency’s abandoned gas lines.

Staff at UTC is recommending a $3.2 million fine against PSE. UTC commissioners will have to make a final ruling, and that is expected to happen in July.