NW Natural gas says land movement could force supply cutoffIf the Uppertown land movement does not stop, Northwest Natural gas company could be forced to cut off gas service to the area for good.

According to district manager Allen Geertz, the company has been monitoring the movement to ensure the integrity of its pipelines and has taken some steps to strengthen pipelines against the movement.

"However, we want you to know that in the event of further earth movement, NW Natural may have to shut off gas service to Uppertown," Geertz wrote to the city of Astoria. "If service is discontinued, it may be terminated permanently."

The letter was delivered with the city's latest update on the earth movement at the Astoria City Council meeting Monday night. Homeowners noticed the movement in early spring and it has been opening cracks in the ground and damaging houses ever since.

Geertz added that the company will do its best to notify the city and its Astoria customers if it does have to shut down service, but "if conditions change quickly, we cannot guarantee that you will receive much advance notice of the shut down."

In the letter, Geertz said NW Natural will not take the decision to turn off service lightly and "will only terminate service if we are no longer confident that we can ensure the system's integrity."

Work is being done right now to try and halt the movement.

A Portland geotechnical firm hired by the city found that the movement most likely was caused when the base of a hill on Lief Erikson Drive was excavated to create a building site.

City Manger Dan Bartlett said 5,000 tons of rock have been placed on the property by Dave Larson Construction, which has been contracted by Skip Hauke the property owner. Bartlett said Hauke also has the engineering firm Squier Geotechnical Consulting monitoring the work full time.

"This is proceeding, at the current pace we expect to be done Friday," he said.

Mayor Willis Van Dusen asked city staff if there is still an effort being made to monitor the movement as the efforts to prevent it continue.

Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said the inclinometers installed by the city's consultant and other parties have been consolidated to make for easier reading.

But he said it's too early to tell if the movement has slowed or stopped. "I wouldn't expect a dramatic change with only one half of the material and a week's worth of work," he said.

Plans call for 10,000 tons of rock to be dumped on the site to try and re-create the hill in a form that resembles what it was like before it was excavated.

In other business, the City Council approved contracting with a private firm for building inspections rather than with Clatsop County's building official. Bartlett said the contract with the Portland firm Winstead and Associates will cost $37,800 and be paid for from a budgeted amount of $38,000. The contract will begin Wednesday and run to June 30.

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