NTSB Outlines Focus of Realty Tower Investigation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the May 28 explosion at the Realty Tower says it will focus its investigation on the pipeline operator’s procedures and practices for meter removal, record keeping and abandoning gas facilities and ownership of the inactive service line.

It will also focus on the companies associated with the building, the operational practices of GreenHeart Companies and its policies for work crews, the agency announced Tuesday.

The NTSB’s investigation is ongoing, the preliminary report said.

“Just before the accident, a four-person scrap-removal crew, engaged by contractor GreenHeart Companies LLC, were working in a basement area located just northeast of the building, underneath the sidewalk,” the report says. “GreenHeart was contracted by the City of Youngstown to remove and relocate utilities in preparation for a city road improvement project and, at the time of the accident, the scrap-removal crew was removing old utilities and other items from the basement area.”

In interviews with the NTSB, a member of the scrap removal crew and the GreenHeart site supervisor “indicated they did not have any knowledge that the gas service pipelines in the Realty Tower Building basement area were in service, transporting natural gas.”

He used a “reciprocating saw to cut into one of the pipes he had been told was ‘dead,’ or not transporting gas, but partway through the process, he heard a loud whistling sound and felt gas blowing into his face from the cut pipe.” 

“Enbridge Inc. subsidiary Enbridge Gas Ohio provided natural gas to the businesses and residences in the Realty Tower Building through a steel main and service line,” the preliminary report says.

The NTSB learned during its investigation that at the time of the accident, the inactive service line had been pressurized with natural gas to about 38 pounds per square inch, it said.

The preliminary report also found that GreenHeart is a partial owner of the Realty Tower.

“The gas meter that had previously been installed on the inactive service line was removed in June 2008,” the NTSB preliminary report says. “Enbridge records indicated that the inactive service line was manually cut and abandoned in September 2015.”

And the “maximum allowable operating pressure of the main was 60 psig [pounds per square inch gauge],” it says. “At the time of the accident, the operating pressure of the main was about 38 psig.”

A final report could take up to two years. 

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s office announced via a Facebook post Monday night that the owner plans to demolish Realty Tower, which is owned by YO Properties 47.

The Stambaugh Building, which houses the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel and Bistro 1907, has been closed since the explosion. A structural engineer’s assessment last week determined that the Realty is in imminent danger of collapse without modification, and International Towers was evacuated, with residents temporarily relocated to assisted living, retirement communities and other sites.

A time frame for demolition hasn’t been announced, and an email Tuesday morning from Nikki Posterli, Brown’s chief of staff, said no news conference is planned for Tuesday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.