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Katrina Takes Toll on Small Gas Municipals in Louisiana, Mississippi

At least 14 municipal natural gas distribution systems in Louisiana and Mississippi sustained heavy damages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, according to an official with the American Public Gas Association (APGA).

In Louisiana, the ravaged municipal gas systems included Grand Isle, Abita Springs, Madisonville, Kentwood, Franklinton and Tangipahoa, said Laura Schepis, APGA's vice president for regulatory affairs in Washington, DC

Municipal gas distributors in Mississippi that suffered damages were Moss Point, Pascagoula, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Picayune, Beaumont, Chicasawhay and Shubuta Natural Gas District, she noted. Many of the distributors are small in size, serving anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 customers.

"We found gas lines in trees" in Waveland, a community that was completely destroyed by the hurricane force winds and flood waters, said Bill Coffeen, senior vice president for Energy South and Mobile Gas, which led efforts to provide relief and assess damage to utilities in Mississippi. The Waveland municipal system in western Mississippi will "pretty much" have to be rebuilt from scratch, he noted.

Because some of the Gulf Coast cities and towns served by the distributors were razed, it's unclear at this point whether all of the damaged municipal systems will be rebuilt, Schepis noted. "It's really going to be a city-by-city decision on what to do."

Coffeen believes the affected municipal gas systems will recover, but he said it will take a "long time" because crews will have to go section by section to repair lines and restore service.

Don Nijoka, the executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Gas Authority in Baton Rouge, LA, reported Grand Isle, LA, is in "very bad shape," and said he has had trouble contacting the municipal distributors serving Madisonville and Tangipahoa in the state, according to Schepis.

Entergy Gas, which serves 147,000 customers in New Orleans, is "pretty active," she said. It has set up a western relief staging area in a shopping center in Metarie, LA. On Friday, Entergy Gas reported that it was making "good progress" with the assessment and restoration of service in the French Quarter, Central Business District [CBD] and Uptown sections of New Orleans.

"The natural gas system in Algiers is completely restored. Much of the French Quarter has gas service, but because of water seepage into the low-pressure system that serves this area, complete restoration will take longer than we had hoped. We are continuing assessment in Uptown and the CBD and expect those assessments to be completed within the next couple of days," the company reported.

Entergy Gas dismissed news reports that large fires in the city were being caused by natural gas leaks. "Entergy Gas...personnel responded to the fires and reported there was no evidence that they were gas-related."

Companies helping Entergy Gas to restore gas service included Miller Pipeline of Indianapolis, IN; CenterPoint Energy of Houston; Baltimore Gas & Electric; Peco Energy of Philadelphia; One Oak Inc. of Austin; Mobile Gas in Mobile, AL; Avista Utilities from Washington State; Laclede Gas of St. Louis; and Connecticut Natural Gas Co. It also was consulting with gas companies that have experienced disaster restoration, including Con Edison of New York, Laclede Gas and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. of San Francisco.

Mobile Gas, along with the APGA, has established an eastern relief staging area, and has been on the ground for more than a week in Mississippi providing humanitarian aid and assessing damages to municipal systems in the state, APGA's Schepis said. "The humanitarian aid is still appreciated, but at this point [companies are] moving to gas company-to-gas company assistance," she noted.

In addition to Mobile Gas, Schepis said Mississippi municipal gas systems have received assistance from Philadelphia Gas Works, the Okaloosa Gas District in Florida, Pensacola Energy Services in Florida, and the Municipal Gas Authority in Georgia.

"The industry did a great job of responding with water and food" to the affected towns and cities in Mississippi, which have now moved on to remove debris and assess damages, Coffeen said. "We've got more help now than we can probably use," he told NGI.

He noted that Mobile Gas has established a "Natural Gas Relief Fund" to aid workers of municipal gas systems and their families. Donations can be sent to: Chris Rowe, Mobile Gas Service Corp., 2828 Dauphin St., Mobile, AL 36606.

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