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A poor performance

Southern Oregon’s natural gas utility has some explaining to do after bungling its response to a pressure drop that left nearly 4,800 Ashland customers without service.

On Tuesday, the company didn’t issue a news release until 1:43 p.m., although customers noticed problems as early as 7:30 a.m.

Avista notified the city of Ashland, and the city issued an update, but customers who had signed up with Avista for text-message notifications or downloaded the company’s outage app said they received no alerts on Tuesday.

Even after a news release was issued, calls to the company’s 24/7 media line with questions went without a response.

The drop in pressure, the company said on Wednesday, occurred “during routine valve maintenance.” That doesn’t explain why it occurred, but the precise cause is less important than what the company did to inform its customers: precious little.

Avista said on Wednesday that its crews received a low-pressure alert early Tuesday morning. So why did it take until nearly 2 p.m. to make an announcement?

Avista officials should feel fortunate that this outage occurred just as the weather turned warmer. As one resident concerned about her elderly mother said, “What if this had happened in December?”

We understand the safety challenges posed by natural gas and the need for crews to be methodical about restoring service. But communication is vital, and Avista’s was simply unacceptable.

The next time something like this happens, Avista should tell its customers much sooner and in more detail what is happening and when they can expect action.