Kansas City, Mo. - Heartland Midwest – the crew Missouri Gas Energy says was responsible for the gas leak that caused last week’s Plaza explosion – asked for new utility line indicators the morning of the explosion, according to new information uncovered by the 41 Action News investigators.
The 41 Action News investigation also found that the company had not planned to do work in the area until Friday, one day after a major snowstorm hit the Kansas City area.
Hours after the explosion and deadly fire at JJ’s, MGE told reporters that Heartland Midwest, LLC was working for a cable company putting fiber in the area when they hit a 2 inch gas pipe with an underground boring machine.
In news conferences, questions emerged about whether the company had the proper maps and markings for the utility lines.
The 41 Action News Investigators started searching for answers and uncovered records from Missouri One Call showing Heartland Midwest first put in the request to mark lines on Feb. 6, so they could begin work on Feb. 9.
It’s unknown if any work began on that date. However, on the morning of the explosion, Feb. 19 at 8:19 a.m., the crew put in another request with Missouri One Call to have the lines re-marked.
Those documents show that a company employee told Missouri One Call work would begin on Friday, Feb. 22.
According to Missouri law, since the lines were already marked on Feb. 6, the company could legally work in any place where the markings were visible.
Ken McDaniel, a safety engineer with Craig Safety, helps train companies who do excavation work on safety and how to comply with OSHA regulations. We asked him why a crew would ask for a “re-mark.”
“Whoever did the locating felt like something wasn’t right. So somebody took a look at it. Maybe a supervisor and said ‘Okay, you need to redo these,’” McDaniel said.
He said it could be the lines were not accurately located or that markings had moved or were missing. Either way, they were asking for someone to come back and re-mark the area.
Security footage taken just moments before the explosion shows a truck from USIC, the company MGE says it uses to locate lines, drive across the screen.
MGE referred all questions about whether the re-marking was finished to USIC. An employee with the company said over the phone they would not say whether they finished remarking the lines.
It’s unknown why Heartland Midwest started work two days early, but video taken on Friday, Feb. 22, the day excavation was to begin, showed the area covered in snow.
Records also show that someone reported to Missouri One Call at 5:03 p.m. on the day of the explosion that they would be doing a dig up in that area because “gas is blowing” and that the “line was damaged in an unknown location on the property.”
Safety experts said that’s not surprising because in horizontal boring, you can only see where the machine makes an entry and exit. They said you wouldn’t be able to tell where the leak started because it is underground which is why they recommend crews have more than one person, so someone can act as a spotter to help guide the work.
41 ActionNews contacted Heartland Midwest to ask them about our findings. They referred us to their attorney. We made attempts to contact him repeatedly by phone, email and in person. He did not return our requests for information about the events leading up to the explosion.
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