A judge OK’d a settlement Friday that will force Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to spend perhaps $2.5 million to replace natural gas pipelines underneath proposed youth sports fields on Schulte Road.
What the settlement means exactly is far from clear at this point. City offices were closed when the news broke Friday, and what the next step will be or whether the settlement jeopardizes the sports fields’ construction remains to be seen.
The city has already decided to spend more than $340,000 to dig a 1,000-foot water well on the property, and it also spent money to remove antennas from the property that for years was known as the antenna farm.
Under the settlement OK’d by Myra J. Prestige, an administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E has two years to replace a 36-inch high-pressure natural gas pipeline that cuts under more than 100 acres that Tracy hopes to use for youth sports fields.
"This is our way of making sure that we’re not part of the problem," said PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Tam. "We just really feel like the sports park is a good project and good for Tracy. We do feel confident our facilities are safe."
The settlement stems from a complaint filed March 8 by Carole Dominguez, a University of the Pacific accountant who made an unsuccessful run for the City Council last November. Tracy activist Bob Sarvey and Californians for Renewable Energy joined the complaint.
The state utilities commission gave the company a waiver from having to replace the pipeline or reduce the pressure in it as required when pipes are under land that is heavily used by people, as compared to rural land.
The company argued there was no local opposition to the pipelines, but Dominguez countered the issue was never formally voted on by the City Council or debated in public.
She also said the company violated terms of the waiver by failing to install proper safety fencing, for instance, when the antennas were torn down.
The settlement still has to be approved by the state’s utilities commission, and though Dominguez is happy she won the case, she still feels the old antenna farm — sitting as it does near a glass factory and a biomass power plant — is no place for kids to play sports, even after pipelines are replaced.
"I certainly think it will be safer," she said. "But it’s in an industrial zone."