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Crime and Courts

FBI aids in investigation of gas pipeline sabotage that turned heat off in Aspen

Black Hills Energy "hopeful“ to begin re-lights for residential customers by Monday evening, but a snowstorm in the forecast could slow the process.

ASPEN — The name of a radical environmental advocacy organization was scrawled Saturday on a pipe at a natural gas pumping station near Aspen that was vandalized, Aspen police said Monday.

It was not clear whether members of the “Earth First!” group were involved in the intentional disruption of gas service to the Aspen area – which resulted in thousands of people living without heat or hot water – but the name was found at one of three Black Hills Energy sites vandalized, said Bill Linn, Aspen assistant police chief.

“They would have had to have some familiarity with the system” to pull off the sabotage, Linn said. “They tampered with flow lines. They turned off gas lines.”

The words “Earth First!” were written gas pipe that was tampered with in Aspen over the weekend, officials said Monday. (Handout)

Emails sent Monday to the Earth First! organization seeking comment were not immediately returned. Linn said police have not received any communication from Earth First! taking credit for the gas line incidents.

Police and deputies were able to gather physical evidence from the scenes, including at least one set of footprints in the snow leading up to one location, Linn said. Cameras were not installed at the three locations.

The FBI, which has a critical infrastructure department, was working with local detectives on the incidents, Linn said.

The fact that a person or persons struck more than one gas transfer site appears to point to an intentional attack on just the city of Aspen during what is traditionally the busiest week of the year.

“It’s almost, to me, an act of terrorism,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, who was without heat Monday at her Smuggler Mountain-area home. “It’s trying to destroy a mountain community at the height of the holiday season. This wasn’t a national gas glitch. This was a purposeful act.”

Meanwhile, weather, temperatures and deep snow slowed Black Hills Energy employees, who had to visit each of approximately 3,500 affected natural gas meters and turn them off, Black Hills spokeswoman Carly West said Monday morning.

The company’s timeline for re-lighting 3,500 individual pilot lights said they will go until 11 p.m. Monday and then will continue Tuesday starting at 5 a.m., according to a Pitkin Alert.

The timeline to re-light pilots, however, may be affected by a snowstorm forecast to hit the Aspen area, followed by temperatures expected in the mid-to-low 20s on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Black Hills delivered 4,000 space heaters from Denver on Monday for distribution. That started happening about 5 p.m. Monday on Main Street in front of the Aspen Police Station.

To read more of this story go to AspenTimes.com

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