- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

The 16.1-inch snowfall and a manhole explosion in Georgetown this week won't delay the $40 million project to replace wiring underneath the streets in the Northwest community, D.C. officials said yesterday.
Organizers of the infrastructure-refurbishment project took into account matters such as inclement weather when setting the completion date, said Karyn Good, the District's communications director for the project.
"We're starting to chip away at those dates, but the project is still on schedule," Ms. Good said, adding that workers have had to delay work 10 days this year compared with three in 2002.
Construction is on schedule to end on M Street NW in spring 2004 and on Wisconsin Avenue NW a year later.
The upgrade of pipes and wires was initiated by Potomac Electric Power Co., Washington Gas, the Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. government after a series of manhole explosions, smoking sewers and power outages.
Wednesday's explosion occurred almost three years after three underground blasts catapulted manhole covers into the air, shaking Georgetown enough for dozens of businesses to close for a day.
Portions of M Street and sidewalk crumbled, and windows shattered. A couple of dozen businesses and some residents between 31st Street and Wisconsin Avenue along M Street lost power.
No utilities had to be turned off Wednesday.
Georgetown has some of the city's oldest wiring.
After investigating a June 2001 power outage, Pepco discovered that its cables could overheat if wires became too worn. Businesses said that outage caused losses of $8 million.
Tim Sargeant, corporate spokesman for Washington Gas, said the company added new piping two weeks ago 20 feet to 30 feet from where Wednesday's explosion occurred.
He said he couldn't speculate on whether the construction was related to the break of a three-quarter-inch pipe rising from a 6-inch gas line on M Street.
Workers sealed the gas leak Wednesday afternoon, and crews from Pepco checked underground cables.
Firefighters and gas crews checked nearby establishments for the presence of gas, evacuated three buildings and drilled holes into the street to allow ventilation, Mr. Sargeant said.
One side of the two-way street was open by 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, and the street was open in both directions at 2:20 a.m. yesterday.
The D.C. fire department is responsible for finding out what ignited the natural gas.
Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, yesterday said he knew of no new developments in the investigation.
David Frandano, a manager at J. Paul's restaurant nearby, said the explosion sounded like a mix between a car wreck and a gunshot, and that the odor of gas was strong.
Mr. Frandano said a plume of smoke mixed with snow filled the air surrounding the manhole.
The commotion cost the restaurant thousands of dollars, he said.
"It's become almost accepted as something that can happen around here," said Mr. Frandano. "But to think someone could be walking on it it definitely would kill or maim them is scary."
The construction near the restaurant also is costing the restaurant business, he said.


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