Maine State Rep. Seth Berry presents bill to make sure Farmington explosion can't happen again

Article and photo by Ramona du Houx

State Rep. Seth Berry (above) presented a bill on January 22, 2020, the day after the governor's State of the State, that would include liquefied propane gas lines in Maine’s so-called “Dig Safe” laws. The legislation is a response to the tragic explosion that occurred in Farmington last September when propane gas burst into a fireball, killing one and sending others to the hospital.

“Dig Safe” laws prohibit digging around certain underground utility lines. In Maine, liquefied propane gas lines are currently not on the prohibited list.

 “LP lines are some of the most dangerous buried lines in the ground, and yet they are not included in our laws to ‘dig safe,” said Rep. Berry at the bill’s public hearing before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “It is unfortunate that we have not already passed a bill to protect our LP lines. If we had, the devastating explosion in Farmington could have been avoided. We must take action now to ensure the safety of Mainers and to prevent an event like this from happening in our state again.”

Previous bills to bring LP lines under “Dig Safe” failed in the Legislature. Those versions of the bill exempted smaller LP tanks, including the size of the tank in Farmington. Rep. Berry’s bill does not include any exemptions.  

“Our community was devastated by the explosion that happened at LEAP in September,” said Rep. Scott Landry, of Farmington, a cosponsor of the bill. “Since the event, we have come together to support each other and to rebuild. Passing laws like this will remind our town that we are not alone, and that the state is working to protect us and prevent future tragedies."

The committee, which Rep. Berry chairs, will hold a work session and potential vote on the bill later this session.

“I was very surprised to find that the type of buried line one would most want to have protected by Dig Safe is not covered by the program, especially with the number of people in more rural areas of Maine who use LP as a fuel,” said Sen. Russell Black, of Wilton, a cosponsor of the bill. “This is something we must remedy as quickly as possible to save lives and avoid future tragedies.”

Rep. Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island and most of Richmond. He is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House majority leader.