Concerns raised about Plymouth evacuation

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 8, 2014 

— Reactions were mixed at a Tuesday town hall meeting in Plymouth about the evacuation process following last week's explosion at a natural gas facility.

Some residents who attended expressed concern there wasn't an efficient plan in place to get residents out and not enough information was released by officials.

However, others in the town of about 300 spoke about the quick response of the emergency personnel and the job they did going door to door to evacuate the town.

"I don't feel there is an emergency process in place. I didn't know if my house was standing upright or what," said Linda Marcum after the hour-long meeting. "I don't have comfort that there is any communication within the (emergency) departments in Plymouth."

Tuesday's meeting with officials from Williams Partners, the subsidiary that owns the plant, at the Plymouth fire station was a chance for residents to ask questions about the blast on March 31 that led to the town's evacuation. About 40 residents attended.

Ed Brewer, Williams vice president and general manager, and Von Strudor, district manager, were part of the panel answering questions. Benton County officials from the sheriff's office and fire departments also were on hand.

Brewer expressed his gratitude to the first responders and told the crowd that Williams is committed to safety. He called Williams a transparent company and the Plymouth plant critical to natural gas production throughout the Northwest.

Williams will review the incident and look at ways to improve safety, officials said.

Residents focused their questions primarily on the initial response of emergency personnel and what could be done in the future if a problem arises at the plant. There were a few questions addressing safety concerns and about the damage was done during the explosion.

Ismael Delgado told the Herald that it was helpful Williams officials held the meeting, but that there needs to be a better way to notify residents if they are in danger.

"I feel like (Williams officials) are doing their best," he said. "But it leaves me with questions about such a big plant and big corporation, and why warning devices aren't installed."

Officials from the Benton County agencies told residents they have already started to review their response to the Plymouth emergency and what can be done better in the future.

A Benton County deputy passed out his phone number to residents and promised to keep them up-to-date with how the investigation goes.

"No matter how well you (do), there's always going to be things you learn from these incidents," Sheriff Steve Keane told the crowd.

Roland Watt, chief with Benton Fire District 6, praised the plant's managers for helping emergency personnel during the incident.

He said officials were in the command room with him, providing useful information about the plant and liquefied natural gas.

"They are not just a big corporation that disappeared when this happened," he said. "Well, 'the what if' happened and those people were right there through the whole thing."

Many residents said they feel safe living in Plymouth and were satisfied with the way Williams has handled the incident. They said Williams has always been a good neighbor and does its best to try and keep the community informed.

"I think for the time being they are (keeping us informed)," said Don Ledbetter. "I don't think they really know yet. I think they have done a good job telling us what they know, which isn't much."

Williams officials said they might hold a future meeting to discuss the investigation.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556;; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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