Hallowell Water District’s proposed 20 percent rate increase is but one example of the costs communities will shoulder as gas companies install mains at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, little attention has been given to the impact of this expansion on other buried facilities located in the public way.

Many gas mains are being installed with a 1-foot separation from other buried facilities — if that. The Maine Department of Transportation Utility Accommodation Policy specifies that “unless specifically permitted otherwise, a 3-foot minimum horizontal clearance shall be maintained between all underground facilities and appurtenances.”

For water and sewer structures, even the 3-foot minimum standard is not ideal. Because water and sewer lines are normally buried 6-8 feet deep, accessing those facilities requires the installation of a shoring box to protect workers from cave-ins. If a gas line is located almost directly above those mains, working on those deeper facilities can be nearly impossible.

During this past legislative session, our association attempted to advance legislation that would result in more comprehensive and protective construction standards for gas lines. We were disappointed that the political will was not there to even have the discussion.

Hallowell’s situation is a perfect example of how state policy can affect a small community with minimal staff. We won’t pass judgment on the merits of the district’s proposed rate increase that, by our calculation, will increase the base residential water bill from 62 cents to 74 cents per day. However, the stated purpose of the increase is to ensure that the district has more resources to minimize the potential conflicts they will experience this summer, and living with well into the future.

We support that.

Jeffrey McNelly, executive directorMaine Water Utilities Association Augusta

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