FOX 8 Defenders: Entergy investigates why transformer that leaked for months wasn’t replaced

The FOX 8 Defenders learn an investigation is now underway after we started asking questions about a potentially dangerous issue. Jefferson Parish neighbors say the problem went on for months until something in their yard exploded and caught fire.
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 10:32 PM CDT
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Marrero, LA (WVUE) -

For months, Neil Peterson and his husband, Chris Skipper haven’t been able to garden, enjoy their patio, or let their dog out in their Marrero backyard.

“It was a kind of a sick, sweet smell that was coming out,” Skipper said.

He explained, “the timeline shows that we started alerting them in May that something’s leaking, that something’s killing our grass.. we don’t know if it’s poisonous.”

The couple said a clear liquid had been leaking out of the Entergy transformer at the back of their property. “We practically had to beg. I mean we’re being made to beg for service,” Skipper said.

After repeated calls to Entergy in May and June, the couple says the company sent someone out in July to investigate. “They came out and took a look at it, and said yes, that needs to be changed.. we’re gonna get that changed for you,” Skipper explained.

But more time passed, and more and more of that liquid kept leaking out. “There was a small patch of grass that was dead and then, within a week, it was a lot larger,” according to Skipper.

Neighbors reached out to Entergy again on August 4th, August 11th and August 19th when the company sent someone out a second time. “The Entergy man told DEQ that yes, that needs to come down.. we’re coming tomorrow to take it down,” Skipper said.

Still, he says nothing changed until well after Hurricane Ida. “September 9th is when it exploded.. it was around 2 p.m.,” Skipper told us.

Skipper shared images of the fire that afternoon. Sparks were flying, flames and smoke could be seen shooting out of the transformer, and that liquid that had been leaking for months, he says was now pouring out. “Then it looked like a river of fire pouring down because it was on fire into the ground,” Skipper explained.

A neighbor smelled smoke and called for help, but Chris Skipper thinks about what could’ve happened had it blown up overnight. “Had this been night time, that shed would have caught (fire).. see how close we are to other homes,” he said.

The day after the fire, 106 days after neighbors first started calling Entergy to report the problem, a team of utility workers flooded the neighborhood to remove the destroyed transformer. But to get their equipment in the backyard, crews had to take down a gate and other property. “We just want answers, and we just want it all fixed like it was because this is our home,” Peterson said.

Nearly a month after the fire when they still couldn’t get answers, they reached out to the FOX 8 Defenders for action.

“My fence is all messed up, my gate is torn up, they broke our slab that we had put in many years ago to pull the post out,” Peterson explained.

We reached out to Entergy on a Friday, and by Monday someone with the company was in touch with the homeowners to investigate the complaint.

“They had these big visqueen bags, and they were digging it out by the shovels full,” Peterson said. While a layer of soil and grass had already been removed, crews returned a second day to remove even more soil and lay down a fresh layer.

As for the damaged property, a representative told the homeowners, Entergy most likely would be responsible for the damages based on the description of the incident, but before a claim is approved or denied, they’ve got to investigate.

Meantime, Entergy tells the FOX 8 Defenders, the transformer “spilled non-pcb oil”, which means it doesn’t contain polychlorinated biphenyls, which is a group of chemicals banned from production in the late 70s, according to the EPA. Instead, Entergy says this was a mineral oil “used to insulate high-voltage electrical infrastructures.. stopping discharges and arcing.. any contact would be no worse than that of vegetable oil.”

“We got tired of calling Entergy, and he (Chris Skipper) wasn’t getting any answers.. and he said we got to do something,” Peterson said.

Entergy says its working to determine what caused the fire, and if a transformer is leaking, company policy is it should be changed “within a matter of days.” Entergy said, “an investigation is underway to determine when this was first reported and why, if there was an active leak, it was not changed within that timeframe.” Neighbors on this Jefferson Parish block say their calls for service started months ago and feel the fire that caused them to lose power and re-stock their fridge a second time after Ida could have all been prevented.

The homeowner says Entergy sent out a local contractor who’s going to try and repair the fence and possibly replace the current gate with a wider one in the event Entergy would need to access the property again. If you’ve got a consumer-related issue you’d like us to look into, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women or fill out our online complaint form.

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