MGE responded in a written statement by saying the utility, "promptly responded," and followed company and industry procedures. The statement goes on to say, "MGE responders conducted tests and urged the evacuation of several buildings in the impacted area, including JJ's. MGE responders urged JJ's to evacuate on three separate occasions. While many individuals left, our employees cannot force anyone to evacuate."
But attorneys representing the owners of JJ's see the commission's findings differently, calling MGE's response to the gas line break, "too little and too late."
Also in a written statement, attorney Steve Emerson blasted MGE, saying personnel failed to follow pipeline law and company procedures.
"Among other failings, they took too long – more than 30 minutes - to check for gas accumulation inside of JJ's Restaurant and then failed to effectively evacuate the restaurant once they belatedly realized that hazardous levels of gas had accumulated inside the restaurant," Emerson added.
On the day of the explosion, Heartland Midwest crews were laying fiber optic cable for Time Warner when they struck the underground gas line. In the opinion of the PSC, Heartland could have avoided the gas line if workers had only known it was there.
Heartland attorney Brad Russell told us the report vindicates the contractor even though the OSHA report last fall put some of the blame on them.
"It was a really good day for Heartland Midwest. A long time coming," Russell said. "It included an analysis of our work and that there were no criticisms of how we did our work contained in that report."
Russell said this is even more of a victory for the three Heartland workers still recovering after they were injured in the blast.
"You get kind of the combined frustration with being hurt and injured and then being blamed early on that you're the one who caused this," Russell said.
Heartland will now use the report as a centerpiece of their defense in appealing the OSHA report and in the multiple lawsuits still pending.
JJ's attorney said their case is set to go to trail July 2015.
USIC, the company which marked the street areas indicating the underground gas and electrical lines, did not return our requests for comment.