Some 70 construction workers received an unscheduled 90-minute break Monday morning when a construction company’s backhoe broke a 2-inch, high-pressure gas main adjacent to the Madison Commons condo development at Madison Street and Marengo Avenue.
The line break occurred at 10:15 a.m., according to project manager Randy Norbeck, who said police and fire were informed right away.
“We evacuated the building site immediately, evacuated the neighbors, and immediately called police, fire and Nicor [gas company],” Norbeck said.
Responding officers immediately shut down Madison Street between Harlem and Circle avenues.
As workers milled about along Madison Street, firefighters hooked up hoses and stood by ready to respond while they awaited Nicor representatives.
Neighbors said this was not the first gas main break in this project.
“This is the fifth one,” said Sonia Capri, who owns the adjacent building at 328 Marengo. “The first one started on Memorial Day, and we were literally taped out of our parking lot. Nobody could use their cars.”
Capri said she called the mayor that night after nobody responded to that first leak.
“I called the mayor, he was out of town,” she said. “By 11:30 at night, there was a terrible gas smell and everybody was getting sick.”
In total, Capri said, there have been four breaks down the alley on top of this, the most recent, accident.
“This is the worst; it was escaping so badly,” she said.
Nicor staff arrived at 10:45 a.m. to clean up, as the odor of natural gas wafted through the air in front of Circle Theatre. They quickly grounded the pipe and clamped it off.
Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke said the combination of the main’s high pressure and what he termed “a nice wind” Monday morning acted to minimize the possibility of gas collecting anywhere.
However, after Nicor fixed the break, fire department personnel walked through the construction complex and the building at 328 Marengo with gas meters searching for possible pockets of gas.
That process was finished by 11:30 a.m., and workers returned to their tasks.
Norbeck said that workers had been “undercutting” the alley behind the development in preparation for replacing it when the gas line break occurred. According to Glinke, the Nicor line that was broken was not a service line to the new development, but was a separate line running along the length of the alley being rebuilt.
The alley, said Capri, was being rebuilt because of damages caused by the construction of the Madison Commons building.
“When they started building, the public alley became a private alley,” she said. “Now all my tenants are out on the street and still can’t get into the parking lot. Then they started repairing the alley. When they did that, they tore up my private parking lot.”
Capri said the construction has been a major inconvenience to her tenants and that the mayor has not been returning her calls.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said he takes exception to Capri’s claims he has not returned her calls.
“I am a little disappointed that she is saying I have not responded. There has never been a time that Sonia Capri has called my office where the Village of Forest Park has not responded to her,” he said.
Calderone pointed to specific instances where he has addressed her problems, including finding parking for her tenants and personally handling at least one of the previous breaks.
“She called my office because as part of the Madison Commons development they had to block off the entire alley which was going to restrict access to her parking for her tenants,” he said. “I immediately had my police chief contact Sonia to make arrangements for her tenants to park on her street until the alley was completed.”
On another occasion, he said, he personally stayed up, on-site, until 4 a.m. to make sure a gas main break got fixed.
“When they dug the hole in the project,” he recalls. “I was with my wife at the Holiday Star Theatre. I called Sonia from the theatre. I got home at midnight, and, yes, there was a gas leak. Was it dangerous? No, but I had my police department call and insist they got the gas main leak repaired.”
Capri said she blames the mayor for the inconveniences, calling the Madison Commons building a nightmare and the most densely developed place in Forest Park.
“This mayor has put up this building; he gave all these variations,” she said. “He never returns a phone call. I am angry; constantly these things are creeping up. When they were cutting the brick, never watered it down. I lost three tenants.”
Calderone said that everyone has to suffer a little for progress.
“She has not liked the project from day one,” he said. “Is this going to have some hardship for the area during construction? Yes. But you can’t make a building just appear.
“That is part of progress,” Calderone said. “Every one of us suffers a little bit in light of progress?”including me. I am not going to dodge her calls, if she calls and has a complaint, we are going to address it. If it is legitimate, we are going to get it resolved.”