September 5, 2013

Augusta gas work expected to take years, city officials say

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Motorists tired of waiting in traffic at one of the many construction sites where workers are laying natural gas pipeline into the ground could have years of waiting ahead of them.

click image to enlarge

Natural gas pipeline construction continues on Townsend Road at the corner of Civic Center Driver on Thursday in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

While work bringing major natural gas lines into the city is underway at sites throughout the city at a fast pace this summer, further work putting in smaller pipelines connecting to residences could take place during each of the construction seasons of the next several years, city officials said Thursday.

Lesley Jones, public works director, told city councilors it could take three to seven years for both companies competing to serve businesses, residents and institutions in Augusta to build out their pipelines.

City councilors said they’ve been getting numerous calls from residents with concerns and complaints about the disruptive work taking place between city streets and sidewalks and the business and residential properties they abut.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people wondering what’s going on out there,” Councilor Cecil Munson said.

However, Munson said he’d also gotten a letter from a citizen and former state Department of Transportation engineer who said he thought the gas line work was being done professionally and at a good pace.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas have contractors doing pipeline construction that has torn up numerous streets, delaying motorists throughout the city.

“Some of you may have noticed a little difficulty getting around the city,” Mayor William Stokes said of the widespread construction. “There seems to be an awful lot of workers in the streets and on sidewalks, laying pipe at a feverish pace. It can be inconvenient, but we all know there can be long-term benefits to what’s going on right now.”

Jones said Augusta may be one of only two cities in the country where two gas companies are installing pipelines in the same streets.

City Manager William Bridgeo said as many as 20 construction crews have been excavating simultaneously in the city for the pipelines.

Peter Bottomley, sales manager for Maine Natural Gas, thanked the people of Augusta for their patience during the project. He said the company has nearly completed installing the backbone of its system and soon will transition to building out its system to serve gas users via smaller lines.

“We realize there’s a lot going on. There is a lot of waiting at construction sites,” Bottomley said.

Michael Duguay, business development director for Summit Natural Gas of Maine, offered similar thanks to the people of Augusta and said he hopes the benefit will outweigh the immediate inconvenience of the work taking place.

Those benefits, he noted, include not just the eventual availability of natural gas, but also economic development in the construction jobs created and the money those construction workers spend locally.

“There’s an incredible amount of economic activity,” Duguay said. “I realize it’s a inconvenience and apologize for that.”

Bridgeo said both companies have said they want to continue working as late into the fall as possible.

He said Jones and Jerry Dostie, street supervisor, will monitor the sufficiency of pipeline construction crews’ street and right-of-way restoration work closely, because that type of work gets more complicated as the temperature drops.

The city grants street-opening permits for the gas line work to take place. Jones estimated the city has taken in, so far, about $300,000 in street opening permit fees.

Thursday’s session was not a public hearing. Bridgeo said if citizens have concerns about the construction, they should contact his office, their city councilors or Jones at the Public Works Department at 626-2435.

Resident Tim Bolton, in a series of emails to city officials, has complained about several issues after pipeline work took place near his home on Chapel Street, noting that stamped concrete transitions between the sidewalk and street were not replaced, and pavement was put in their place. He said he thinks the new transition isn’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for providing access to people with handicaps, and is unattractive.

Jones responded, also by email, to Bolton by saying the previous concrete stampings were not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, though they were acceptable when they were installed in the 1990s. So, she said, the city has been directing contractors to pave the transitions instead.

Bridgeo, in an apparent reference to Bolton’s complaints, said when concerns have been raised about ADA standards, city officials have sought expert advice and “we have made every best effort to ensure we have the right information and are making the right judgments. Unfortunately, we’re not always able to satisfy an individual complaint.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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