Moss Point utility system has 'serious safety' concerns

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Safety experts have raised serious concerns about the natural gas system run by the City of Moss Point. There are problems with leaks, corroding pipes and a large amount of gas that's simply unaccounted for.

The problem has gone on for years and the Public Service Commission is taking action.

A hearing was held in Jackson County on Friday to discuss those problems and the future of the utility system. That hearing was contentious at times, with the Public Safety Commission on one side and Moss Point's Mayor and utility consultants on the other.

One huge concern is the amount of natural gas that's "lost or unaccounted for." Federal regulators raise red flags when that amount reaches just five percent. In Moss Point, it's been over 50 percent in recent years.

"2010 leak survey discovered 1026 gas leaks," said pipeline safety inspector Wiley Walker, who testified for much of the morning.

He showed pictures of corroding pipes and other unsafe conditions with the distribution system, which on a scale of one to ten, he currently rates a three.

"I don't know of another system. I don't know of any system I've ever had any experience with, bar none, that has the kind of problems both structurally and in the system and managerially," said Walker.

Mark McCarver is the investigator's boss and has also spent plenty of time inspecting Moss Point's system.

"I've been down in holes when gas was blowing in front of schools. I was here when there were 700 or 800 grade one leaks coming out of roadways and people's homes. I've seen gas bubbling in the rain that makes it look like there's an air hose under it," he said.

Moss Point's mayor says she's followed the advice of several expert consultants and the city has spent three million dollars on improving the system.

"We did have people we were trying to bring in and pay to do the job, and this one said they thought that one was going to do it, and the other said that. So, we may have slipped some things because of who was supposed to do what," said Moss Point Mayor Aneice Liddell.

The hearing did get a bit contentious at times.

"Unlike some city leaders in this room, who believe that we've ambushed and threatened to call the NAACP. I hope they do. Because the citizens of Moss Point deserve the NAACP to protect them from their administration's incompetency," said PSC Commissioner Leonard Bentz.

"My biggest concerns are the unaccounted for natural gas. We're looking at that," said Billy McQueen, who now operates the gas system for the city.

"After all we've done, it's my opinion that the gas is not leaking. Or I don't think it's leaking. And that the unaccounted for is in our billing or our accounting," said consultant Bruce Stevens.

The hearing will continue in two weeks.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.