Columbia Gas answers questions
By KEVIN DYE
Columbia Gas held a public meeting Wednesday night at the West Jefferson Senior Center to inform and answer any questions that residents might have about the gas pipeline replacement project that has begun work in the village.
The gas pipeline replacement project is a statewide project to replace aging pipe with a new high-tech plastic pipeline. Columbia Gas communications and community relations manager Ken Stammen said that the company has already successfully replaced gas pipelines in several communities and the company has a goal to replace all of the gas pipelines in the state of Ohio over the next 20 years.
“Several years ago Columbia Gas started a program to replace pipe with a newer, more reliable system with greater economic benefits for Ohio,” Stammen said. “We are in this area where the current pipe is much older.”
Stammen said that 700 West Jefferson residents will receive a new service line and 200 residents will have their gas meter moved as part of the project.
“There are two priorities for this project,” representative Mike Sucharski said. “One is the age of the system and the second is that there are areas in this community that has limited access to the gas lines. We are looking to come in and when we are gone everything will be modernized.”
The meeting was turned over to construction project manager Michael Schwieterman, who explained that the roots of this project began with test projects in Toledo, Steubenville and parts of Columbus.
Those results gave Columbia Gas the go ahead from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to start work to replace all of the pipelines in the entire state. Currently, Columbia Gas is replacing 160-170 miles of pipe each year.
“I don’t believe that in the 1940s when this iron pipe was installed they ever thought it would last until 2013,” Schwieterman said. “Our goal is to directionally bore as much as possible, which won’t bother driveways as much. We try to do four things before installing pipe. The first is that we are going to camera all sewers. We want to make sure we don’t hit anything. We will have a video of location and depth of all sewers. The next thing we are going to do is video camera the entire construction pact. If we damage a sidewalk spot, we are going to replace it. If we damage a driveway, we will fix it.”
Schwieterman said they will also utilize the Ohio Utility Protection Services, 8-1-1.
“We dial 8-1-1,” Schwieterman said. “We want to have cable lines, water lines and other lines located.”
The construction crew will place color-coded locator flags for the various lines and when you see those flags it is also an indicator that work will soon begin in that area.
Finally, Schwieterman said there are a few lines that cannot be detected and they will meet with homeowners to see if they have an invisible fence for their pet or a sprinkler system to water their lawns. Those lines would have to be brought to the attention of the crew.
“All Columbia Gas employees that come to your door will have a picture ID, like I have on right now,” Schwieterman said.
One of the main concerns from residents at the meeting was what would the company do with meters that are behind or inside a house. Schwieterman said those meters would be moved as part of the program.
“Where current mains are in the back of the house, we will have to do some plumbing,” Schwieterman said. “Meters need to be seen from the street, at the front or the side of the home. We will do all of that plumbing, set the trunk line, but we still only need a couple of hours. Meters inside the home will also need to be moved outside to the front or side of the house. We will take you outside and discuss with you where the best place for the meter will be.”
It was explained that meters need moved to the front area of a home not for meter reading, but so it is easier for fire and police to know where they are in an emergency situation. It was also pointed out that work at the home would not start until all of the new underground pipeline is already in the ground. That would mean that work at homes would not begin until sometime in March at the earliest.
Another question was about residents who have left for the winter for several months. Schwieterman said that has been taken into account.
“If someone is away for the winter and then returns, information will have been left for them with a neighbor,” Schwieterman said. “The info will have the cell phone number of someone working on the project in the area. They will only be a few blocks away and they can come and meet with the homeowner and explain what is going on and work on their home.”
There was a question about interior leaks and Schwieterman assured that safety is a primary concern. The new delivery pipeline will have safety features that will automatically shut down a line if there is a problem. Inside the home, there are only a couple of pre-existing issues that would cause the company to not turn the gas back on.
If there is a leak in your home you would already smell it and we will fix any leaks we find on the spot,” Schwieterman said. “There are only two safety problems that would keep us from turning on your gas, a collapsed chimney or a cracked heat exchanger. If there is something major wrong inside your home we will not turn the gas back on. You will have to get that fixed. Cracked heat exchangers are very dangerous with carbon monoxide issues in the home.”
He also expressed that Columbia Gas takes all precautions when working inside a home if they have to move a meter outside.
“If we damage anything at your home we will fix it or pay to have it replaced,” Schwieterman said.
Finally, he assured residents that while the total cost of the West Jefferson project is $4.8 million, residents will not see any increase in their bill as they already pay a fee for the work.
“You are paying for this, but not $4.8 million,” Schwieterman said. “You are already paying about $3 a month for this project. Everyone in Ohio will be paying the same rate and get the same service. We expect to save money down the road as our leak rate is expected to drop as the project is finished.”