CenterPoint Energy donates $50k to Beaumont for help with Harvey-related gas leak

CenterPoint donates $50k

CenterPoint Energy leaders thanked Beaumont Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Ocnaschek and the team he assembled during Hurricane Harvey flooding to stop a gas leak under the churning, muddy waters of the Neches River, and presented the city with a donation of $50,000 during a council meeting Sept. 26.

CenterPoint District Manager Gary Chalk said his company has been working with the city for “many years,” and has been in Beaumont for more than a century.

“We have established a great working relationship with the city,” Chalk asserted, adding, “Sometimes things come up where we both need each other.”

And Hurricane Harvey was one of those things, he said.

As the Neches River rose with the floodwaters, heavy currents and debris caused hazardous conditions, ultimately resulting in an underwater breach of a 16-inch steel pipeline serving as a conduit for natural gas.

“We were notified by individuals of a serious situation.”

The potentially deadly event sent Chalk and CenterPoint staff on a quest for assistance. After investigating the location of the leak and determining its severity, they knew they needed help. The pipeline breach was “right in the middle of the Neches,” Chalk described, and there were no divers on staff.

“We had a problem.”

Chalk called CenterPoint headquarters in Houston and told them of his dire situation. As they began to map out a plan of action, Chalk called the Port of Beaumont and the city to let them know of the potential danger. He soon got a call back from Ocnaschek.

“Tim’s first statement to us was, ‘Whatever you all need, let us know and we will help you.’

“And they did just that.”

Chalk said someone needed to dive down about eight to nine feet underwater to shut off the gas valve in order for repairs to be made and to stop the leak.

“I don’t swim,” he remarked.

In Houston at CenterPoint headquarters, corporate leaders and management putting plans in motion and gathering resources to implement repairs as soon as possible. But, they never got the chance, said Chalk, because Ocnaschek quickly came to the rescue.

“Tim said, ‘You don’t need anything from Houston. We’ve got it right here in Beaumont, Texas.’

“And, sure enough, he did.”

Chalk said Ocnaschek soon had divers at the location of the breach, and, with the help of key CenterPoint personnel, they were able to shut off the valve and stop the gas leak. Ocnaschek also sent boats to assist in the process and a drone to capture video of the operation and surrounding conditions.

“Each time we had an issue, we were able to call the Emergency Management team,” Chalk said praising the department. “Because of out teamwork, we were able to handle that situation.”

“We needed to do something to recognize that kind of teamwork,” Chalk continued. While talking to his supervisor at CenterPoint, he made a suggestion. “I said, ‘I think we need to make a donation to the city of Beaumont.’”

Chalk called Ocnaschek and the Emergency Management team members present at the meeting up to the podium to present them with an oversized check for $50,000. The real check is “in the mail,” said Chalk.

“It was a great effort, and we are just so thankful,” Chalk told the group gathered at the council meeting.

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