City to fix its natural gas line

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By David Giuliani

The City Council has approved an emergency contract to make repairs to the natural gas line that serves Las Vegas, but one council member questioned how the city went about choosing the company.

The city didn’t go through a formal bidding process because officials wanted to solve the problems quickly out of fear that they would either lead to an explosion or a loss of service to the entire city.

In fact, the council members didn’t have any documents to review before making the decision and no information before them indicating which company the city staff was recommending.

Officials reported that the line had problems in Watrous and Onave. The line near Watrous, which is around 125 feet from Interstate 25, is damaged because of a nearby arroyo, causing leaks, officials said.

The Watrous problem was discovered six years ago and brought to the attention of the utilities director, said Melvin Ortega, the city’s natural gas supervisor.

“Because natural gas (utility) was in a deficit, we didn’t do anything about it,” he said.

The problem in Onave surfaced a couple of months ago, he said.

Councilman Morris Madrid questioned whether the selected company, KR Swerdfeger Construction Inc. of Pueblo, Colo., was the only one that could solve the problem.

Ortega responded that he believed Public Service Company of New Mexico could do so but that PNM stopped undertaking projects some time ago.

Madrid said there was a possible conflict of interest because there is a “related party” to the construction company in the utilities department, but he didn’t identify the employee.

Councilman Andrew Feldman, who is chairman of the city’s utilities advisory committee, said the panel took up the issue and recommended approval.

“This affects health and safety,” he said, adding that the leaks could pose a danger to the public.

The council unanimously approved the $300,000 contract, with officials saying the money would come from the natural gas fund.

Mayor Tony Marquez said after the vote that he wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest.