Spectra Energy completing repairs to Route 819 after explosion; road could reopen this weekend
Chuck Morgan hopes things will turn around for his business after PennDOT announced Tuesday that state Route 819 in Salem Township — closed since an April 29 natural gas pipeline explosion in the area — could reopen as early as Friday or Saturday, if work is completed as anticipated and meets PennDOT standards.
The owner of Orchard Hill Animal Supply on Route 819 said he has had nearly no customers since the road was closed.
“Essentially, we have no income. Period,” he said. “We've been here 40 years. We have a pretty good trade here, and we're down to nothing.”
The highway that carries an average of 3,200 vehicles a day has been closed from Route 22 to Evergreen Drive following the massive blast that left one man with extensive burns as it seared about 40 acres of pasture and cropland, destroying one home and damaging several others.
Investigators from Spectra Energy, the Texas company that operates the interstate natural gas transmission line, third-party scientists, engineers and officials from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration continue to probe the circumstances of the blast. The explosion sent a 24 1⁄2-foot section of 30-inch pipeline buried in the right of way flying 100 feet as a fireball soared hundreds of feet into the sky on the morning of the blast.
A Spectra spokesman said air quality tests the company conducted May 18 and 19 revealed no contaminants from the blast. John Poister of the state Department of Environmental Protection said the agency is awaiting the results of air sampling it conducted over the course of 24 hours on May 2.
Although work continues at the blast site, Spectra spokesman Creighton Welch said a contractor employed by the company has resurfaced 2,100 feet of Route 819. PennDOT officials previously said the road was closed to the public for the last month in part because of safety concerns about heavy equipment that was brought in to complete excavation at the site.
Welch said after the explosion the highway remained “drivable for the slow-moving and heavy equipment that has been on the road during the investigation.” Spectra's work involved restoring it for normal road traffic traveling at posted speed limits, he said.
Highway agency officials must certify that repairs meet state standards before the road reopens.
That can't happen too soon for Dennis Hoyman, who owns Den's Greenhouse and Nursery on Kennan Drive off Route 819. Although his business is accessible by other, more circuitous routes, Hoyman said it's more than inconvenience that has kept customers away during what is typically his busiest season.
“People don't want to come. They say they're afraid it's going to explode again,” Hoyman said.
He said the road reopening offers him little consolation.
“It's too late for me,” he said.