Southern California Gas Co. will have to continue paying for temporary accommodations for Porter Ranch residents who do not believe it is safe to move home in the wake of the largest methane leak in U.S. history, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the gas company's argument that residents should immediately vacate their hotels and other temporary homes now that the gas leak has been fixed.
Customers will now have until March 18 to move home.
The Aliso Canyon gas leak was first reported Oct. 23. Residents in Porter Ranch and surrounding communities complained of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, symptoms that health officials believe were caused by odorants added to the methane to help detect a leak.
Those health concerns and the temporary closure of two public schools prompted thousands of households to voluntarily relocate out of the area.
Crews sealed the leak Feb. 18. Residents had eight days to move home before the gas company would stop paying for their accommodations. But some residents complained that they did not believe it was safe to move home, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sought a temporary restraining order to give customers more time before moving back.
Last week, an attorney for the gas company said relocation efforts cost the utility $2million a day.
“While we are disappointed with the court's decision because it conflicts with independent scientific analysis and creates further uncertainty for the community, SoCal Gas will continue to comply with the decision to provide continued relocation for those who choose to stay relocated,” according to a statement from the utility.
Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the interim director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, has said it is safe for residents to return to the area if they do not smell fumes or feel ill.
Some who have returned home after the leak was sealed said they continued to suffer from maladies.
Health department officials do not expect there to be long-term health effects related to the leak, Gunzenhauser said.
The court case doesn't affect displaced residents who leased homes and apartments until as late as April 30.
The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.
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