SEATTLE — Their jackets are as yellow as a highlighter on a gray landscape of a soggy March day in the Emerald City.
On the one-year anniversary of the Greenwood natural gas explosion, Puget Sound Energy workers are going out in twos across Seattle neighborhoods. They’re going door-to-door and business-to-business to educate people and shopkeepers about the what to do if they think they smell the rotten egg, sulfuric-infused natural gas smell.
“Make that call,” says Andy Wappler with Puget Sound Energy, “it can save lives.”
It was a 911 call reporting the natural gas smell in the early hours of March 9, 2016, that drew firefighters to near the intersection of Greenwood Avenue North between 84th and 85th streets. A state investigation never revealed what sparked the blast, but three businesses were destroyed and nine emergency responders were injured that night in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. Luckily, no one was killed.
At an afternoon news conference marking the anniversary, Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien, several business owners and a representative of the Sierra Club environmental group shared their experiences and pointed fingers.
"When managed and regulated properly, I believe [natural gas] can be safe," says O'Brien. "In this case, it wasn't."
A state investigation assessed more than $3 million in fines against PSE for retiring an old natural gas pipe improperly, which the state says led to last year's explosion.
"It looked like a bomb went off in my store," says Chris Maykut, who owns the Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, which is still right across the street from the blast site.
The explosion and debris blew out every window in his shop. He was able to open the next day and has been open ever since.
Davey Oil, co-owner of G&O Family Cyclery, isn't so lucky. His business was one of the ones at the center of the explosion.
"Negligence blew a hole in our homes," Oil said at the news conference, as he chronicled the details of how the problems from this event a year ago rippled into every part of his life affecting his ability to support his family and re-start his fledgling young shop elsewhere.
Maykut, O'Brien and Oil all agree that Puget Sound Energy should be a leader in renewable energy instead of trying to expand its network of pipes across the Northwest.
"If they choose that route, we’re going to come after them legislatively and with our voices to say ‘no, you need to make sure our communities are safe'."
Puget Sound Energy says they are refocusing efforts on safety. Since last March's explosion, Vice President Andy Wappler says PSE is in the middle of a multimillion-dollar effort to check every single retired pipe and make sure they're safe.
"Cost isn’t part of the equation here, we know that a dollar that goes towards safety is the best investment you can make. We want to insure that nothing like this happens again."
Wappler says today is about the safety message. He says if you even think you smell that natural gas infused rotten egg smell, he says you should not turn on any lights -- leave the premises immediately. He says call 911 or PSE (888-225-5773) from somewhere away from the suspected gas leak. Wappler says whether it's 2am or the middle of the afternoon, make that call right away. With a gas leak, lives are on the line, he says.