Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) — City permits for excavation in Sun Prairie show several downtown projects are part of the investigation into the deadly, damaging natural gas explosion.

Fire Captain Cory Barr was killed, another firefighter badly hurt and at least five buildings demolished after an explosion July 10 followed the striking of a natural gas main, and a leak.

A spokesperson for Bear Communications says a work crew from the firm’s subcontractor, VC Tech, Inc. of Ypsilanti, Michigan struck the main, and then reported the leak, and helped with evacuations.

Shortly after the leak and explosion, 27 News asked for any city excavation permit for work at the epicenter of the blast at Main and Bristol Streets just prior to the natural gas leak.

City officials released five approved permits for work in the downtown core.  The approved permits were granted to Bear Communications, and TDS Metrocom.

A city official, who spoke to 27 News on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release information, said the multiple permits were relevant to the explosion investigation.

The permit applications were made as early as February.  They were all approved in April by city staff engineer Clinton Christenson. The permits varied in projected work dates, with no permit identifying expected work in July. The permits were accompanied by aerial maps of work areas.

Spokespersons for WE Energies decline to comment on whether company officials were contacted to mark the presence of underground natural gas lines before any of the work. But in a Bear Communications permit for expected work in May, permit applicant David Choate wrote, in the area of Windsor and Bristol Streets "…work will be constructed behind the curb in the public row…Based on other utilities, potentially under the sidewalk."

A permit granted to TDS Metrocom for earlier, expected work in the area of Main Street was only approved by Christenson with a condition:  "NO EXCAVATIONS IN PUBLIC SIDEWALK OR STREET."

City officials have yet to comment on how any of the permit-approved work was carried out, citing a continuing police investigation into possible criminal negligence.

TDS spokesperson Deanne Boegli tells 27 News while the company has active permits in Sun Prairie in connection with enhancement of a fiber optic network, she says no contractor was working in the core, downtown area on the evening of the explosion.

"We are not involved in the investigation,"  Boegli maintains.

The work crew from VC Tech, Inc. is the only crew confirmed to have been in the area of the natural gas leak at the time of the July 10 leak. An official with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions tells 27 News there is no record of the company filing with the state to receive authority to transact business here. There are exemptions to the filing requirement, but there is nothing to indicate at this time VC Tech, Inc. qualified for an exemption. VC Tech representative Valentin Cociuba has yet to respond to a request for comment from 27 News.

Last year in Alabama, state officials there voided a contract with Bear Communications for planned, fiber optic work because the company did not have a valid license to do the general contracting.  Bear Communications spokesperson Scott Stein declines comment on the Alabama situation, or the permit work in Wisconsin beyond its statement on VC Tech, Inc.’s role.

Police Lieutenant Kevin Konopacki says the investigation to determine if anything criminal occurred in connection to the natural gas leak and subsequent explosion is expected to be completed in the near future.

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter

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Sun Prairie Gas Explosion Investigation Underway, Scott Walker Responds To Death Of Firefighter