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Workers burst gas main on Alley Pond sewer job

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On the heels of last week's blackout, more than 200 people were evacuated in Bayside Hills Monday morning when workers on the Alley Pond Drainage Improvement Project ruptured a gas main for the second time this summer.

An army of police and firefighters descended upon the normally quiet community to seal off the area from traffic and evacuate 30 residents from their homes shortly before 9 a.m., Fire Department spokesman Jack Thompson said.

Thompson said no injuries were reported in the incident, which he said also caused the evacuation of 200 children from a school at the Colonial Church of Bayside at 216th Street and Luke Place.

Thompson said the gas leak involved a 12-inch diameter high-pressure gas main. He said firefighters responded to 58th Avenue and 215th Street, but Con Edison spokesman Joe Petta said the rupture occurred at 56th Avenue and 218th Street.

"A contractor working on a sewer job hit the gas main with a backhoe," said Petta.

Ten customers lost gas service because of the rupture, said Petta. He said the customers should have had their gas service restored by the end of the day Monday, pending repairs to the damaged section of the gas main.

The gas main was shut down by about 10 a.m., said Petta.

Workers digging a trench for the Alley Pond Drainage Improvement Project, a measure designed to alleviate flooding in Bayside Hills, broke a gas main under Springfield Boulevard in June, causing two blocks of homes to be evacuated.

An official with Carp Construction, the contractor on the sewer project, said the gas main that ruptured Monday did not appear on Con Edison maps.

"We broke it by accident," said the official, who declined to be named. "It was so old it wasn't recorded back in the day."

City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said it was unclear who was at fault for the gas leak, adding that at his urging a meeting had been set up between the contractor, Con Edison, and the Department of Environmental Protection, the agency overseeing the project.

Avella said he was told by DEP that the contractor had not actually hit the gas line, but that "in excavating the site they removed enough dirt from around the line that the pressure gave way."

"The question is, why were they that close to the line?" said Avella.

Avella, who said he met with an elderly couple who had been hospitalized for gas inhalation Monday, called the situation "disgraceful."

Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece said he received calls from homeowners Monday morning who were smelling gas.

"It was a major break where the gas was shooting 10 to 18 feet in the air," said Iannece, who got his information from the Fire Department. "The danger was probably very great."

Iannece, an early champion of the sewer project, said the contractor was very responsible.

"They're going through water mains, sewer lines...and they're going over gas lines," said Iannece. "Eventually you're going to get a breakage."

"A sewer project of this magnitude, to have only two breaks is pretty good," Iannece added.

Madeline De Carlo, a 56th Avenue resident who was evacuated, was worried about future ruptures.

"I wish they would stop this project because they endanger all our lives," she said. "I'm concerned that they're still digging."

Excavation and construction contractor Dom Barilla, who could smell the gas all the way to his home near 64th Avenue, said even the best contractors have accidents.

"It's just a spaghetti of lines underneath the streets here," said Barilla.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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