A front-end loader tore open a natural gas line along the west side of Gulf Drive North in Bradenton Beach around noon Jan. 12, triggering an emergency response, some residential evacuations and a two-hour traffic boondoggle.
Two families from the Blue Horizon, a vacation rental at 99 26th St. N., were evacuated from the area during the repair.
With the help of West Manatee Fire Rescue, gas fumes were cleared from the units and the tenants were allowed to return about 45 minutes after the repair.
WMFR and TECO Peoples Gas halted the spewing gas emissions in the 2600 block of Gulf Drive North with a temporary repair about 10 minutes before the street reopened at 2:30 p.m.
WMFR Fire Marshall Jim Davis said the punctured line was the 4-inch main carrying natural gas on Anna Maria Island.
While Peoples Gas and WMFR worked to contain the leak, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach police departments stopped or turned around vehicles north and south of 26th Street.
A permanent gas line repair was completed at 7:15 p.m. Jan. 12, according to Peoples Gas media spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.
“I take my hat off to the TECO rep and the fire department lieutenant, going into the hole with all that gas in it,” said BBPD Chief Sam Speciale.
“I know they have spark-resistant tools. But still, you can debate with a man with a gun. You can’t debate a spark. It takes a lot of chutzpah,” he added.
Resort owner Suzette Buchan hired the landscaping crew whose front-end operator hit the gas line.
Several workers were seen fleeing the area, leaving their equipment and vehicles, after the line was cut.
The crew had been attempting to remove an Australian pine stump from the city right of way as part of a private/public project, planned to add parking and a dune walk over to the beach.
Part of a land trade with the city of Bradenton Beach a few years ago, the resort owners agreed to fund the street-end project, according to Buchan.
“Basically, I’m just paying for it. We’re using only the contractors the city would use,” she said.
The operator had expected the gas line to be buried 5-feet deep but, she said, while trying to take out the stump, he found the gas pipe much closer to the surface, entangled in the Australian pine’s roots.
“There’s more work to be done and it needs to be coordinated with the gas company,” Buchan said about the future of the 26th Street project.
City building official Steve Gilbert said the city recently obtained permits for the right-of-way construction and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s approval for the dune walk over.
On Jan. 5, Bradenton Beach public works director Tom Woodard said he understood contractors would be asked to avoid the right of way until “one solid pipe” replaces the repaired line.
Buchan said she was waiting to hear from Peoples Gas about a permanent repair.
Asked about a solid pipe replacement, Peoples Gas representatives say the bypass installed was the final solution.
The work on 26th Street is one of several city-planned street-end projects. On 23rd, 24th and 25th streets, there are plans for signage and public parking.
“We were very lucky there wasn’t an explosion or a major issue,” Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said.
“It was an unfortunate accident,” he added.