Unitil is about to undertake a major project to replace or upgrade more than 100 miles of pipeline throughout Portland and Westbrook. Much of the Natural Gas System Upgrade for Reliable Energy (SURE) project will involve replacing cast iron pipes – some more than 100 years old – with state-of-the-art plastic pipe.
“The SURE project will modernize this area’s gas infrastructure, making it more reliable and better able to meet the growing demand for natural gas in Maine,” Unitil Media Relations Manager Alec O’Meara said at a news media briefing today. “Access to natural gas is an important factor in economic growth, and we see this project helping to make Portland and Westbrook even more attractive places to live and locate a business.”
Company officials said there are no imminent safety concerns with the existing gas system that Unitil inherited from Northern Utilities in 2008, but an added benefit of the project is that it allows Unitil to replace aging pipes before they become a concern. The upgraded system also will operate at a higher pressure, resulting in more reliable service for commercial and industrial users and large public facilities.
The project, which is scheduled to take 14 years to complete and will be the largest of its kind in the Northeast, has been developed in conjunction with, and approved by, the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
Unitil has selected New England Utility Constructors, Inc. (NEUCO), a highly respected regional utility construction company, to be the contractor for the first five-year phase of work. NEUCO’s local field supervisors and work crews operate out of the company facility on Presumpscot St. in Portland.
Because gas pipelines are buried several feet underground, the project will involve significant excavation around the two cities. In some cases, NEUCO will dig long trenches to replace whole sections of pipe, but wherever possible they will dig smaller holes and insert the new pipe through the existing older pipe. They also will have to dig smaller holes every place where there is a service line connection from the gas main to a home or business.
Representatives of both Unitil and NEUCO stressed that they are committed to minimizing the disruptions to local businesses, homeowners, and the general public as they excavate and install new gas lines throughout Portland and Westbrook. They said safety will be their first priority, but that they will work as quickly as possible to complete each section of work and restore roadways, sidewalks and lawns.
“We are committed to working closely with the cities and their residents to make sure any inconveniences caused by this project are minimized as much as possible,” Alec O’Meara said. “Unitil is committed to providing safe, reliable energy to its customers, and this project will allow us to continue to fulfill our role.”
To keep the public fully informed about the SURE project and construction schedules, Unitil and NEUCO have created a special website at www.ngupgrade.com and created a special, toll-free hotline for the project at 866-821-4386.