- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Manhole blasts and underground fires in several D.C. neighborhoods have resulted from too much demand for electricity being placed on a utility system badly in need of repair, according to an engineering report released yesterday.
The D.C. Public Service Commission yesterday released an independent consulting firm's report that cited "significant overcrowding" of the Potomac Electric Co.'s distribution network as a chief cause for the manhole explosions that have shaken the city during the past two years.
The consulting firm Stone & Webster Consultants, based in Boston said the repair of Pepco's system should "be expedited from its four-year plan to a targeted completion date of the spring 2003" in its report, which was submitted to the Public Service Commission earlier this month.
"We agree at first glance," Pepco spokeswoman Makini Street said of the 174-page report, noting company officials have not yet reviewed the study fully. "But certainly for something of this magnitude it's something that we want to respond to. We just got it."
Since February 2000, manhole lids have flown off streets in neighborhoods including Adams Morgan, Georgetown and Foggy Bottom following underground explosions and fires. No injuries and slight damage have been reported.
As recently as yesterday, a manhole cover blew off a street near the White House, in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Public Service Commission will seek and accept public comments and suggestions until Jan. 25, when the agency will make a decision on how to address the problem, said commission Chairman Angel M. Cartagena Jr.
"Once the public comments on Stone & Webster's report are received, the commission will have the record it needs to give District ratepayers a proper accounting of why these manhole events have been happening," Mr. Cartagena said in a statement.
Spokesmen for Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the transportation division of the D.C. Department of Public Works said their offices have not yet reviewed the report. A spokeswoman for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency said she was not sure if the agency's director was aware of the report.
Dated Dec. 7 and posted yesterday on the Public Service Commission's Web site (www.dcpsc.org), the engineering study is based on assessments the firm undertook from May 2001 to November 2001. The commission opened the investigation in early March 2000.
The firm also reviewed manholes and system apparatus, and it reviewed Pepco data, including engineering designs, construction, materials, operation, maintenance and inspection practices, the report states.
"[It] is our professional opinion that overloading is a primary factor which may ultimately lead to manhole smoking, fires and explosions," the report states. "We recommend that the networks serving the Adams Morgan area be given high priority in terms of the modeling effort because it shows significant overcrowding resulting from load growth."
The report also recommends that Pepco continue installing and evaluating slotted manhole covers that permit gases to escape through vents rather that allow pressure to build.


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