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Sauvie Island gas leak prompts response, review

Leak results in evacuation of residents on and near island


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Seeing what appeared to be a cloud of smoke coming from the pipe, some Sauvie Island residents were concerned the Friday, Jan. 10, gas leak had ignited, posing a higher threat to safety than was reported. Stew White, of Portland Fire and Rescue, said the cloud was most likely vapor. 'If our guys were not calling it a fire, it was probably a vapor leak,' White said. 'In the dark, that can look like smoke.'Residents living near the Sauvie Island Bridge were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes after a leak was reported on a natural gas pipeline near the bridge Friday, Jan. 10.

Multnomah County Public Information Officer Michael Pullen said the leak occurred at about 6:30 a.m. and resulted in a closure of the bridge until about 7:20 a.m.

The leak occurred at a transfer station for directing natural gas to Sauvie Island residents from the Northwest Pipeline, which is owned and managed by Williams Partners LP, of Tulsa, Okla.

The Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management is now seeking feedback from Multnomah Channel moorage residents and Sauvie Island residents who evacuated their homes due to the gas leak.

“It was a faulty valve releasing natural gas,” Pullen said. “It released gas under pressure into the air and sounded like an explosion.”

Residents living within a half-mile of the bridge were evacuated because of the leak, according to a press release from Portland Fire and Rescue. The evacuation included homes both on Sauvie Island and on the opposing side of the Multnomah Channel.

“Some residents were evacuated to [Sauvie Island Academy],” Pullen said, adding that the school was also closed due to the leak. “In the process of the evacuation, the valve was shut down and the evacuation was canceled.”

“Multnomah County has a notification system for residents, so they wanted to evacuate residents in that general area,” said Darla Meeuwsen, executive director of Sauvie Island Academy.

Meeuwsen said the school remained closed all day Friday because county officials could not guarantee any effect from the leak on the school’s furnaces, which are located in each classroom. Meeuwsen wrote in a notice to island residents the leak could have resulted in “no heat and the potential of explosions” in the school.

The following day — Saturday, Jan. 11 — the Sauvie Island Community Association issued an alert to all island residents that Tina Birch, emergency operations specialist with Multnomah County Emergency Management would be seeking comment from residents who were forced to evacuate.

“We will be working with the residents of Sauvie Island through the Sauvie Island Community Association and [the Sauvie Island] Rural Fire District to help them better prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies in their community,” Birch wrote in an email to the Spotlight. “We had started discussion prior to the recent gas valve event on the island and are planning to host an event in conjunction with SICA’s annual meeting in March or April.”

Sauvie Island residents can reach Birch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-988-7563.

A SICA representative wrote in a Saturday newsletter that the gas leak and its resulting evacuation “brought into sharp focus the need for better preparation and planning to deal with disasters of any sort here on the island.”

Although a SICA disaster program is already in the works, the association will be ramping up its efforts to develop an effective, community-informed plan with assistance from Birch and Multnomah County Emergency Management.

Meeuwsen said Sauvie Island Academy will be involved in the process with respect to the school’s capability to operate as a community gathering center in the event of potential disasters.

“It might be something as simple as having a lockbox for emergency services,” she said. “People could use the school as a community center, which is what they did during the floods... I believe it was 1996 when the school was the only place above water.”