We were all shocked when a PG&E gas transmission line ruptured and exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people and leveling an entire neighborhood.
Our first thoughts were for the dead and injured from that horrible incident. Our second thoughts were for the safety of our families. If this could happen in San Bruno it could happen in our community. There are pipelines crisscrossing our neighborhoods and towns, and none of us know exactly where they are.
Since that horrible day, PG&E has been conducting hydrostatic testing on its entire gas transmission pipeline system and, in many cases, replacing pipelines and installing automatic shut-off valves.
They recently led local public officials on a tour of their new gas transmission command center in San Ramon (which I attended) that monitors PG&E's entire natural gas transmission system. It looks very much what I would expect a NORAD missile command center to look like with rows of computer terminals and a display of any part of the system they wish to project.
PG&E is rolling out a new program they call the "Pipeline Pathways Project." The program will remove all structures and vegetation to provide 10 to 14 feet of clearance on either side of their main distribution lines on both public rights of way and private property throughout their service area. This program is now being rolled out in Contra Costa and Alameda counties after being introduced in Fresno and parts of San Jose.
PG&E representatives met with Martinez interim City Manager Anna Gwyn Simpson and her staff on March 7. They reported that after surveying their pipelines throughout the city they would be removing at least 265 trees, and 241 bushes and other landscaping on both public rights of way and private property.
They planned to start mailing letters to affected private property owners on Monday, March 24, followed by visits from PG&E representatives canvassing neighborhoods and obtaining signed permission documents to remove vegetation from their properties. Vegetation removal is scheduled to start May 26.
Looking over the maps showing what vegetation and trees will be removed in Martinez is scary. In many areas that have tree-lined roads and a rural country feeling, those lovely trees will be removed. In other areas that are more urban, street landscaping and some hardscape will be removed. The ambience of some neighborhoods could be changed forever.
Although PG&E says they will replace each tree on a one-for-one basis, those trees that are removed cannot be replaced in the same location; they would be replaced outside of the 10-to 14-foot clearance area or in a different location.
Because this program will affect every city in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, the Contra Costa Public Managers Association called a meeting with all Contra Costa city managers, mayors, attorneys and engineers. hat meeting was held Friday, March 21, at Walnut Creek City Hall.
Fifteen of the 19 Contra Costa cities were represented (including Concord, Clayton, Pleasant Hill and Martinez), and also the Alameda County cities of Pleasanton, Hayward and Dublin. We shared where each of our communities were in the process and what concerns each of us had with the Pipeline Pathways Project.
It was decided that we would go back to our individual city councils and urge that we work together as a group to ensure that PG&E remove only those trees that absolutely cause a safety problem with their pipelines, follow our local tree ordinances and obtain the necessary permits.
The safety and security of our residents is the most important responsibility of every mayor and city council member.
We in Martinez appreciate the need and encourage proactive measures to ensure pipeline safety. However, the proposed project cannot proceed until the concerns of the city and community are addressed.
If you are contacted by a PG&E representative to allow them to remove or trim vegetation, trees or structures on your property, hold off signing any documents until we have more information. Call the city and let us know you have been contacted and what they have asked you to agree to. This is a quickly developing situation, and by the time this column is published the information here may be outdated.
All of us want to be sure that pipelines are safe in our communities. We also only want to remove those trees and vegetation that absolutely needs to be removed for the safety of pipelines and your lives.
A "scorched earth" approach to achieving pipeline safety is not necessary. I am sure a solution can be found as long as PG&E is willing to work with the cities of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.