Gas main break disrupts Waukesha neighborhood, but causes no serious problems

Peter Zuzga
City of Waukesha Firefighter Steve Putchinski walks away from a natural gas leak at the intersection of Frederick Street and Lincoln Avenue on Wednesday, Aug. 27 in Waukesha.
Published on: 8/27/2014

A natural gas main break in eastern Waukesha sent road construction crews scurrying and forced authorities to cordone off the area.

The break at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Frederick Street occurred shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday, blocking traffic for a brief period before the gas supply was cut off on the nearest main valve shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Despite the potential for serious problems, the incident caused no injuries and resulted in the loss of gas service to only about a half-dozen customers, We Energies reported.

Still, the plume of gas erupting from the high-pressure line was so strong it picked up surrounding soil, creating a visible vortex that caught the attention of nearby residents as well as the people who work in several adjacent industrial businesses along Lincoln Avenue.

'Any line that gets hit is going to be under some pressure,' We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said. 'This was a gas main, instead of a gas service line (connected to homes). ... There is just a little more pressure on a main.'

The gas main was struck as crews continued the summerlong sewer and road work on Lincoln. A foreman at the scene declined to offer an official comment, but a construction worker, who was not identified, believed that the main had not been properly marked to warn crews before the digging began.

Manthey said the routine of marking potentially dangerous utilities prior to road construction work is handled by Diggers Hotline, a contractor which uses information provided by the utilities. It wasn't immediately known if the gas main had been marked at some point.

One police officer said authorities didn't feel an evacuation was necessary, though officials from the Waukesha Fire Department actively moved people to an area several hundred feet away from the break.

The break also blocked access to and from the industrial businesses east of the intersection. Those affected included Eaton Corp. (the former Cooper Power Systems plant) and Waukesha Foundry.

Despite the circumstances, the gas leak did not heavily impact service along the line.

'We've had some (incidents) where we've well over a hundred people (with lost service). ... This one is a pretty low number,' Manthey said.

The loss of gas service was less keenly felt than if it had occurred during the heating season, he noted. 'Fortunately, it's not January. It's August,' Manthey said.