Natural gas service has been restored to nearly 5,500 households and businesses in White Salmon, Bingen, Odell, and Hood River following what utility NW Natural reports was its largest outage in 65 years.
Caused by a vehicle collision on Highway 14, the impacts of the event took nearly a full week to repair. Chief Michael Hepner of the Bingen-White Salmon Police reports that the incident occurred just before midnight on Sunday, Dec. 20, when a 21-year-old male was driving northbound across the Hood River Bridge at “an excessive rate of speed.” The vehicle did not make the turn onto Highway 14 and crashed into the district regulator station. Washington State Patrol arrested the suspect for DUI and took him into custody; Bingen-White Salmon Police performed the site investigation after engineers from Williams NW Pipeline Company, which operates the gas line, stopped the leak. Highway 14 was closed for half a mile surrounding the site, and residents in houses on the White Salmon bluff were notified of the incident.
Residences and restaurants appeared to be the hardest hit. In the midst of busy shopping days, and including the Christmas holiday, many homes were without heat and hot water. Several restaurants, already struggling from pandemic restrictions, were without the ability to cook and had to close their doors. The Society Hotel in Bingen was without hot water for their guests, resulting in multiple cancellations, rescheduled stays, and refunds. Skyline Hospital reported that NW Natural provided a compressed natural gas truck to supply the hospital and that fortunately there was no operational impact.
NW Natural mobilized an impressive response, immediately communicating safety precautions to customers and taking action to restore service. In cooperation with staff from other regional utilities, the company deployed a fleet of service vehicles to visit their thousands of customers one by one. The company “deployed the maximum qualified technicians possible from several states,” according to a press release, “who worked extended hours every evening, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and through inclement weather conditions."
Jackie Riley, a volunteer with the local Red Cross, led the charge to keep her White Salmon neighbors warm. Approximately 1,100 blankets, provided by the Red Cross, and 2,200 portable heaters, provided by NW Natural, were distributed from the Hood River and White Salmon Fire Departments. Says Red Cross spokesperson Carrie Salmmons, “We really appreciate our volunteers helping out there—we’re glad people were able to stay warm.”
Service was restored to most of the 1,200 Bingen-White Salmon customers within a few days, but Oregon customers experienced longer wait times. NW Natural advises that outages like this are rare and said it is grateful for cooperation from both customers and local response agencies. Anyone still in need of service restoration should call (800) 422-4012 to schedule a return visit by a technician.