I had a dream: the gas was turned on!

A happy dream about a real situation.

About a year and a half ago, the gas in our building was abruptly turned off.

It wasn’t a “nightmare,” nor was it a deliberate attack on our building — as a number of suspicious people at our coop meeting muttered darkly — nor was it the fault of our coop board (two people sitting next to me were grimly taking notes and sputtering nastily; I smelled a lawsuit brewing).

Here’s why our gas left the building:

A few years ago, my city enacted a group of laws pointed specifically at preventing gas leak explosions, after some buildings blew up and killed people.

This is what an active government does or should do: it looks at problems that affect people badly and figures out how to address those problems. What emerged here were those laws.

What we were not entirely aware of was the way those laws were to be applied. No internal inspection, no self-reporting would be permitted. We coop residents did learn about the application shortly before the application slammed into us, but there was nothing that we could do before the City, in the form of Con Ed, blitzed us. That is, Con Ed showed up without notice, did something technical with air, pumps and meters and thus determined whether the gas pipes had any leaks. Apparently they did, so Con Ed shut the gas down throughout the whole building.

My building is very large. It covers one whole city block and has more than 600 apartments. It is over 70 years old. I came to realize that pretty much any older building will have small gas leaks. Older grandfathered pipes are missing some modern safety achievements in gas line design, such as impervious elbows and individual valves in each apartment.

The gas shut off initiated an intense response involving engineers, architects and master plumbers and City permits from the Department of Buildings. As soon as the angry, dissident residents were fully informed and learned that our building had not been viciously targeted, the mutterings and litigation-plotting stopped. Indeed, we all went out to buy electric burners and told each other how relieved we were that our home wouldn’t be blowing up. And a lot of people were ordering Chinese and pizza for delivery.

And that’s how it’s been here. The plumbers are replacing all the gas piping. Throughout the building we have had the satisfying sounds of banging, sawing, screeching — the work is getting done. The plumbers have worked on apartment lines (I’m in the L line) and as they finished a line they’d get the inspections and permits necessary to turn that line back on.

My dream about getting my gas turned on wasn’t particularly prescient; according to the schedule, my line should be on in a few weeks. Or pretty soon, whichever comes first.

So this has been a lesson in good government and gas, in how invaluable plumbers are and how patience borne out of the facts of life is an asset in times of difficulties. And also how to adapt cooking techniques and specific recipes to a single electric burner.

Ergo, I was somewhat concerned to read a New York Times article about gas turnoffs in Queens in NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) buildings.

It’s almost a reflex action in New York to scream about NYCHA, the largest public housing authority in North America. But in this instance, I can tell NYCHA residents that you are not being targeted, and your deprivations are not because of NYCHA. All buildings in the city are subject to these laws and shut-offs. Before our gas was cut off, two friends of mine lost theirs, too. Because their buildings are smaller than mine, it didn’t take as long to get their gas back on.

So I want to assure NYCHA residents that this time we’re all in the same no-gas boat. But as the Times article says:

Still, the housing authority, known as NYCHA, claims it’s working as fast as possible to fix the issue. “They have the ability to get gas restored to buildings much faster than private owners,” said Vito Mustaciuolo, the general manager for NYCHA, who added that the pandemic has created new challenges in communication. “Typically we would have meetings in person, we would invite the tenants’ association and any resident affected/impacted by the outage.” Only a few socially distanced meetings with tenants have been possible so far, he said.

So it’s COVID that has disrupted an effective information process and I feel bad about that, because it was a couple of large meetings here, pre-COVID, where we all learned enough to accept the problem without going entirely nuts.




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