DENVER – Black Hills Energy said Wednesday morning that crews continue to make progress in relighting customers’ pilot lights and appliances and are hopeful most will have their full gas service restored by the afternoon or evening in Aspen.
The company said that 170 technicians from the company and outside companies and contractors worked late into the night to continue the relighting process for commercial and government buildings and was working Wednesday morning to continue restoration of services to remaining residential customers.
Black Hills Energy said Tuesday night in a post on its website that it was hopeful “nearly all customers could have gas service restored by late Wednesday afternoon.” The company said that timeline could be slowed if crews are unable to connect with customers to get inside to relight and test appliances.
Black Hills Energy said that as of 1:15 p.m., service had been restored to more than 85% of the 3,500 customers that had been without.
The company said that a white door tag signals technicians arrived when no one was home and said people who receive them can call 888-890-5554 to schedule a return visit. A red tag signals that a safety inspection identified an appliance giving off carbon monoxide and that more work was needed.
“Our goal is to restore natural gas service to our customers as quickly and safely as possible despite the many conditions making this a difficult process,” said Vance Crocker, vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy Colorado. “Every customer is extremely important to us and we want to make sure each one receives the customer service we pride ourselves on providing, and has service restored as quickly as possible.”
The company said space heaters were still available for pickup from the Aspen Fire Department at 420 E. Hopkins Ave., and that customers who have received one will be able to keep them. Black Hills Energy is scheduling appointments for Dec. 31 starting Dec. 30 for crews to come turn gas service back on at unoccupied properties.
The outage was caused by vandalism discovered over the weekend on three gas line sites in Aspen and Pitkin County, officials said. The company shut off service to customers Sunday and Monday had worked through the night to purge the system before services could be restored.
The vandalism to the sites is now a criminal investigation led by the Aspen Police Department, with assistance from the FBI and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
One of the sites had the name of a group, Earth First, written on it, but officials on Monday declined to elaborate on whether the name had any connection to the vandalism. Law enforcement officials said Monday they did not believe the vandalism would qualify as terrorism.
“The word ‘attack’ has been thrown around a lot,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Joe DiSalvo during a meeting Monday. “It’s not the word I would use. It was an intentional attack to disrupt gas service in and around Aspen.”
The city of Aspen declared a local disaster emergency Tuesday afternoon because of the ongoing gas outage. It gives the city manager to authority to shelter people who are vulnerable for several days, to access properties housing vulnerable individuals or properties, and to apply for disaster aid and assistance.
The city can put the declaration in effect for up to seven days, but it can be extended by the city council if needed.
“As stated in the declaration, the City also faces the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints of the outage occurring during a holiday week,” the city said in a statement. “The ongoing natural gas outage has created the potential for significant risk to the community's safety and welfare based on the cold winter temperatures. The City believes this action will help to enact emergency action as needed to avert danger or damage.”
A tip line for the investigation has been set up at 970-924-0614.
Click here for the latest from Black Hills Energy, which is asking that no one attempt to relight their appliances on their own. People can call 888-890-5554 with non-emergency questions and click here for more FAQ.