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PG&E stops talks on settlement fund with San Bruno over pipeline blast
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The city of San Bruno said Wednesday settlement talks were back on track with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. about compensation for a deadly gas pipeline explosion after the city held a morning press conference announcing the collapse of negotiations.

PG&E Senior Vice President Greg Pruett, however, said the company had always been willing to talk and set up a Friday meeting to continue settlement discussions.

Officials in the San Francisco suburb want the utility to make good on its promise to pay restitution for the September 2010 blast that laid waste to a quiet subdivision overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said city officials have been negotiating a confidential settlement with PG&E executives, including President Chris Johns, since last fall. But Ruane said the utility abruptly walked away from the negotiating table last week.

"We want PG&E to recognize and pay restitution for the great tragedy they caused in San Bruno and help restore our community," Ruane said. "The consequences of this tragedy will not fade."

Pruett held a conference call Wednesday and said the company had planned to set up a meeting with San Bruno officials before the city announced its concerns. He added that Johns left last week's meeting with local administrators believing negotiations were moving toward a resolution.

"What we really are committed to doing is continuing to sit down with the city representatives and senior leaders," Pruett said. "We both have the same strong, passionate desire to resolve this and address the needs of the residents of San Bruno quickly."

San Bruno spokesman Sam Singer said he was surprised to hear the utility remained open to negotiations, and was pleased to hear company executives would rejoin San Bruno officials at the table, nearly a year and a half after the accident.

City officials also filed a petition with the California Public Utilities Commission asking to become part of its probe into whether PG&E should be fined for the explosion, which they see as another possible path to collecting restitution. The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Any settlement would be in addition to a trust fund PG&E created to pay up to $70 million to help the city cover the cost of rebuilding. The company also set up a $100 million fund to support emergency needs in the aftermath of the accident on Sept. 9, 2010.

Federal accident investigators lay the blame on PG&E for the explosion, saying a litany of failures led to the blast, which they concluded wasn't the result of a simple mechanical failure but rather an "organizational accident."

Escaping gas fed a pillar of flame 300 feet tall for more than 90 minutes before workers were able to manually close valves that cut off gas to the ruptured pipeline. Investigators said the damage would have been less severe had automatic valves been in place.

Dozens of people were injured and more than 100 homes were destroyed or damaged in the bedroom community.