November 30, 2012

Kennebec River barge crew bores test soil samples for Maine Natural Gas pipeline

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The two-company race to bring natural gas to the Kennebec Valley rolls on in corporate conference rooms, town halls, roadside ditches and now, atop a barge in the Kennebec River.

click image to enlarge

Workers drill from a barge on Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the Kennebec River, in downtown Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Workers drill from a barge on Thursday morning in the middle of the Kennebec River, in downtown Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Additional Photos Below

A crew hired by Maine Natural Gas, one of the two firms competing to bring natural gas to customers in Augusta and the Kennebec region, took test borings in the Kennebec River this week to sample the soil below, determining the proper location and depth for its pipeline to cross the river.

The Maine Test Borings crew of three men, from a 25-foot barge moved around by a small motorboat this week, drilled down into the riverbed just upriver from Memorial Bridge between the city's boat landing and downtown.

A more specific location to cross the river will be picked after the test boring results are studied. After that, Maine Natural Gas plans to bring its proposed pipeline across the river as soon as possible in 2013, according to spokesman Dan Hucko.

"It's a further demonstration of our commitment to build a pipeline up through the (Kennebec) Valley," Hucko said of the test borings for the river crossing. "This project is moving ahead. We have the Public Utility Commission's full authority to do it. We have approved rates. We have the funding. We're laying pipe. We're negotiating contracts and getting them signed. Natural gas in the Kennebec Valley is quickly becoming a reality."

Officials with competitor Summit Natural Gas of Maine agree bringing natural gas to the region is fast becoming a reality, but they want to be the ones bringing the gas. Summit insists it will bring gas to far more people and will provide a larger financial boost to a much wider area.

Colorado-based Summit is seeking the unconditional approval of the Maine PUC to serve customers in Maine before it can move ahead with construction of its proposed pipeline from an existing pipeline in Windsor into Augusta and south as far as Richmond and north as far as Madison.

Maine Natural Gas already has such approval and in recent months has been installing pipeline in ditches in the area. Summit officials said they're not concerned Maine Natural Gas is already putting pipe in the ground while they await final PUC approval to start work, which could come by year's end.

A PUC technical conference is scheduled for Dec. 12.

"This is too good an opportunity to walk away from, any work done to date by Maine Natural Gas isn't of significance enough to stop us from doing what we're doing," said Eric Earnest, vice president and chief operating officer of Summit Utilities, parent company of Summit Natural Gas of Maine. "We know we can come in and build a system and know we can economically serve 52,000 customers. When we identify an area like this, we design our system, our rate structure and our construction plan around serving as many customers as we possibly can."

Summit officials said they've distributed proposed letters of intent to municipalities throughout the region, asking them to vote on a non-binding statement indicating that they'd take Summit's gas to heat municipal buildings.

Ken Young, executive director of Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, hosted a meeting between municipal leaders and Summit earlier this month, and assisted Summit in sending out the proposed letters of intent. So far, only selectmen in Belgrade have signed on.

Young said the letters of intent will help Summit judge how much demand for natural gas there may be in a given municipality. Since they are non-binding and don't commit the municipality to buy gas from either company, he sees no harm in officials signing them.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Workers drill from a barge on Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the Kennebec River, in downtown Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan


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