WATERVILLE — A $350 million natural gas pipeline being built in the Kennebec Valley will provide gas to city residents and businesses this year, the president of Summit Natural Gas of Maine said Wednesday.

Michael Minkos said the main transmission from Pittston to Waterville, Skowhegan and Madison is being constructed with a plan to spread distribution lines into those communities over the next three years.

Summit has been talking with Waterville officials about the project for about six months, he said.

“Construction is underway and will expand very quickly over the next few weeks,” he said.

Michael Duguay, also of Summit, said the company plans to provide natural gas to downtown this year.

“Our current construction plans and intentions are to serve Waterville Main Street within the 2013 construction season,” Duguay said in an email late Wednesday afternoon. 

The main line will initially service Huhtamaki in Waterville, Madison Paper Industries in Madison and Sappi in Skowhegan.

Summit’s plans to construct distribution lines this year that will connect some businesses and homes to the gas line, according to Summit’s website. Communities included in this year’s plans are Augusta, Fairfield, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Madison, Waterville.

In the future, the company plans to expand into Albion, Belgrade, China, Norridgewock, Oakland, Richmond, Sidney, Skowhegan, Windsor and Winslow, according to its website.

City councilors on Tuesday voted 6-0 to OK a permit for Summit to dig a trench for a gas transmission pipe on Webb Road, in the city’s right of way. The 4,600-foot-long pipe will go from the intersection of West River and Webb roads to Mitchell Road.

The pipe is a small piece of the 68-mile main transmission line that will be the backbone of the system stretching from Pittston to Skowhegan and Madison, according to Minkos. 

Eventually, and over the next few years, lower pressure plastic pipes will be connected to the main transmission line and go into the communities Summit will serve, according to Minkos. Those pipes, to be installed over the next three to five years, will allow residents and businesses to receive natural gas.

“It’s a phased build-out,” Minkos said.
Some distribution lines into communities will be built simultaneously with construction of the main line, he said.

About 80 percent of customers, including residents and businesses, wanting natural gas will receive it within the next three years and construction will continue into a fourth and fifth year, Minkos said.

Summit has a plan for build-out, but distribution lines will be built first where people indicate an interest, he said.

“You can’t build everything in one year; it’s just too big a project,” Minkos said.

Newspaper advertisements, brochures and other notifications will be sent out, directing people to Summit’s website and how they may indicate interest.

The 68 miles of the main steel pipe will be constructed in four segments, of about 15 miles each, he said.

Construction will start in Pittston probably Thursday or Friday and then expand rapidly, according to Minkos. Construction already has started in Madison.

The council must take two more votes to finalize the Webb Road permit and likely will do so in two weeks; the Public Works Department also must issue a road opening permit governing where and how deep the pipe would be laid in the ground. 

Steven G. Sawyer, vice president of Cornerstone Energy Services, Inc., which is working with Summit, told councilors Tuesday that the transmission line will go from Pittston to Augusta and up U.S. Route 201, cross under the Kennebec River to around Thomas College off West River Road, continue to Webb Road and then Oakland, Skowhegan and Madison.

Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, asked how deep the high pressure main steel line will be. Sawyer said it will be a minimum of three feet. The steel pipe will be 10 inches in diameter, he said.

Sawyer said gas will start flowing through the pipe in November.

Mark Kierstead, a member of a gas subcommittee of the grassroots organization Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, said his committee reviewed Summit’s plan at length and voted unanimously to support it.

“We think they’re doing it the right way,” Kierstead, a  lawyer, said. “We think they have a lot of experience. We think that they’re very dependable.”

City Manager Michael Roy said late Wednesday afternoon that the city is happy to see construction starting for a natural gas supply for the Waterville area and understands that the transmission main on Webb Road is a first priority.

“We’re extremely hopeful that distribution lines can be extended out into the city during 2013,” Roy said. “We understand some of the distribution network will be based on need or expressed desire, but other parts of the city, we think, are vital enough to have lines extended immediately, or in 2013, the downtown area being one of them.”

Augusta-based Summit Natural Gas of Maine is owned by Colorado-based Summit Utilities.

Earlier this week, Dan Hucko, spokesman for Maine Natural Gas parent company Iberdrola USA, which also owns Central Maine Power, said construction of the firm’s competing 12-inch steel pipeline into Augusta is about 40 percent complete, with about four miles finished. 

He said installation of plastic distribution pipe is more than halfway complete and Maine Natural Gas’ Windsor plant, where it will tap into the Maritimes and Northeast pipeline, is on schedule for completion this month.

Maine Natural Gas’ current efforts are focused on bringing gas to Augusta, though company officials have said they will expand to more of the Kennebec Valley if it is economically feasible.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

 

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