GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — The mayor of Georgetown is now asking a state agency to begin looking into a natural gas leak that has displaced dozens of homeowners and businesses for a month.
In a lengthy statement sent out Tuesday night, the City of Georgetown reported that the situation has not officially been declared a disaster.
“The City does not have oversight of pipeline safety,” Mayor Dale Ross said in the statement. “That role rests with the Texas Railroad Commission. Simply declaring a local disaster does not make new or different resources available that are not already being provided. The City is in regular contact with both Atmos and our partners at Williamson County and the State to ensure this evacuation is brought to resolution as safely as possible.”
Ross stated further that he has “formally requested the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) to begin an assessment of this situation.”
He did not rule out a disaster declaration being made in the future.
“Should the situation evolve,” Ross said, “the City stands prepared to declare a disaster and call on additional resources from our fellow governmental agencies.”
Earlier this week, city and county leaders discussed how to provide additional support for businesses that are still closed after four weeks.
Wednesday marks one month since Atmos Energy discovered the leak at 507 River Bend Drive. A spokesperson said crews already fixed the initial problem, but problems have persisted because the soil conditions are preventing the natural gas underground from ventilating quickly.
As of Tuesday morning, Atmos reported that 65 businesses and 68 homes have now been evacuated.
Annette Robinson operates a senior care business from her home near the corner of Golden Oaks Drive and Dawn Drive, where she provides around-the-clock services for three elderly women.
The operation, however, had to close on March 4 when they evacuated late that night due to unsafe gas levels.
“They knocked on the door and said we need you to get out,” Robinson recounted. “That was very hard. All of my residents were in their bed asleep in their hospital beds.”
Robinson said Atmos is now paying for her three patients to stay in another facility in Round Rock, while the gas company is also covering the cost of a hotel room nearby for her and her husband.
“Yes, Atmos is doing a great job as far as housing us, and they’re giving you $100 for food or for whatever you choose to use it on a day, and that’s great,” she said. “But I want to be back in my home.”
Nicole Harris, the owner of Hydrate juice bar on Williams Drive, put up a sign recently outside her store with the words “Not quite yet” written in bold red lettering. She wanted to let her customers know that it’s still not safe enough for her to reopen and she’s becoming more worried about losing them for good after having to close for a month.
Since she was forced to evacuate on Feb. 21, Harris said Atmos has given her about $7,000 so that she could pay her workers and cover other expenses, like rent. That, however, does not reimburse her for the untold amount of income she’s now lost.
Bill Gravell, the Williamson County judge, told KXAN that he’s especially worried about that for the growing list of local businesses that have had to close.
“Listen, this is a crisis,” Gravell said. “It’s a crisis for those businesses that are displaced, the employees that are displaced and the services not being provided.”
He said he and other county officials are currently talking about ways to draw more attention and customers to the affected businesses once they reopen. He said Atmos has to be apart of that recovery, too.
“This wasn’t a natural disaster. This was a man-made, created disaster and they [Atmos] have a moral responsibility to help,” Gravell said. “They have been very strong to this point, but we’re really at a place that we’ve never been before either, and there are not many places across the state that have ever gone through a crisis like this.”
Val Nicholson represents District Two on the Georgetown City Council, which includes most of the evacuated area. She said she worked with the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce to help organize an event for business owners impacted by the gas leak.
The first event will be held at 8 a.m. on March 22 at the Chamber of Commerce, located at 1 Chamber Way in Georgetown.
If any business owners would like to attend, they should first contact the Chamber by either sending an email to Jim Johnson, the president and CEO, at email@example.com or calling the office at 512-930-3535.
Johnson said the Chamber will facilitate a conversation with its own leadership and other elected officials. as well as Atmos Energy, to help understand what steps can be taken to further assist businesses in the present and future.
This week Atmos Energy also set up a special page to provide updates to customers about the ongoing issues caused by natural gas leak in Georgetown.
It’s still unclear when repairs will be done and people will be allowed to return to their businesses and homes.