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City Council hears complaints from Baltimore residents over BGE's installation of gas regulators

City Council hears complaints from Baltimore residents over BGE's installation of gas regulators
City Council hears complaints from Baltimore residents over BGE's installation of gas regulators 03:07

BALTIMORE - City Council held a hearing Wednesday to gather information about Baltimore Gas and Electric's installation of high-pressure gas regulators on city homes.

The discussion with the natural gas company, city departments and residents centered around best practices for a gas regulator at a residential property, safety concerns over where the equipment would be installed and to address a community outcry over the work. 

The informational hearing comes within weeks of city residents filing a class action lawsuit against BGE after the utility company is accused of shutting off services to certain customers who refused to consent to the work being done outside of their homes. 

The customers said BGE turned off services to neighbors who did not give their consent to tear up streets, drill holes in their historic homes and allow crews to install the new equipment. 

"If you saw the bulldozers and the destruction to the streets and the facades, the foundations of our homes... no one would call it minor work," explained one city resident. 

The lawsuit alleges the company cannot force exterior gas regulators on their customers. 

During a protest of the construction activity, three women were arrested for interfering with the work.

BGE Governmental and External Affairs Director Ervin McDaniel explained that the company is in the process of replacing low-pressure systems with high-pressure systems in older neighborhoods as part of the Strategic Infrastructure Development and Enhancement Plan or STRIDE. 

"It has been stated outdoor regulators have been installed without customer consent and without prior notice. That is simply not the case. Before we perform the STRIDE work, BGE sends letters to impacted customers concerning the replacement of gas lines. The work performed to replace the aging infrastructure starts with the installation of new gas mains in the roadway," said McDaniel. 

Residents have repeatedly brought up concerns regarding the placement of the new equipment on the outside of their homes. 

Some have stated there are fears of a catastrophic gas incident happening if a vehicle collides with the regulator, while others voice worry over someone tampering with the equipment as well as the equipment being an eyesore on their historic homes. 

"You are subjecting them to vandalism, corrosion and vehicle collisions," said Washington Hill Community Association President Maggie Fitzsimmons.  

"We're just one TikTok video away from a catastrophic trend in Baltimore," said another speaker. 

BGE stated that although failures are rare, when it occurs indoors, it could lead to a catastrophic incident. 

The company used the example of the 2016 tragedy in Silver Spring at Flower Branch Apartments that left seven people dead and many more injured. The NTSB cited a faulty gas regulator as the cause.

"While some have noted the possibility of damage to outdoor regulators from vehicle strikes or other scenarios, those incidents pose significantly less risk for a catastrophic gas incident. BGE's safety practices are fully supported by the relevant regulations and tariffs," the company added. 

As far as the aesthetic concerns from residents, the utility company suggests residents paint the regulator or place a structure in front of it that weighs less than 50 pounds and is at least three feet away from the equipment. 

The company stated it is also looking into concealment enclosures that safely vent natural gas and facilitate accessibility to BGE and emergency first responders.

The possibility of an explosion or fire happening from a vehicle strike or other means of damage to an outdoor regulator led residents and some council members to push BGE for a definitive answer on who would be held liable for any sustained damage.

The company ultimately said it would look into the question and would follow up once confirmed. 

So far, the company confirmed more than 10,000 regulators have been installed across the city. However, the company was issued a temporary restraining order to stop installing the regulators until Sept. 5 unless a customer consents to the work to be done before then. 

The meeting Wednesday lasted for several hours, and concluded with the commission promising to hold more discussions in the future to keep tabs on the progress of the project upgrades. 

The Maryland Public Service Commission scheduled a hearing to also discuss the placement of gas service regulators on August 15. 

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