July 11, 2008

Gas Pipeline Getting Early Start

By Alan Burke, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

Jul. 11--MARBLEHEAD -- The long-planned pipeline is coming early, and town officials are concerned that its construction might interfere with Race Week in Marblehead.

Representatives of the pipeline project visited the selectmen on Wednesday, explaining that the construction company has found "a window" allowing them to begin the project this year, on or about July 16 -- instead of next year. In fact, rather than wait for pipes to be constructed, the builder has found surplus pipes that will do just as well.

"We had to amend a few permits," said Doug Jones of Neptune LNG LLC, who stressed that the whole process will be quiet and relatively unobtrusive.

The pipeline is designed to reduce local opposition to LNG port facilities by creating offshore access, allowing liquefied natural gas tankers to unload their cargo into the pipeline without ever coming near land. It's a technique pioneered in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

The terminal for gas deliveries here will be 10 miles out to sea. Then, the pipeline will connect with an existing line about three miles from Marblehead's shores, less than half a mile into Marblehead waters.

"This year, we're just going to lay the pipe," Jones said. It's a process carried out on a vessel from Quincy Shipyard and manned mostly by oil workers from Texas. The multistepped process involves welding the pipes together aboard ship and placing them underwater. Next, a trench is dug, the pipe placed within and finally covered over.

Jones promised the work would go quickly, but that brought a concerned response from Town Administrator Tony Sasso.

"Didn't you talk about an Aug. 4 start date so it wouldn't affect Race Week?" he asked.

"No," Jones said.

A Marblehead tradition going back more than 100 years, Race Week for adults goes from July 24 to 27, and it can attract as many as 200 sailing boats.

Jones downplayed any conflict, explaining that his company is working cooperatively with the Corinthian and Eastern yacht clubs, which run the race. Construction starts from the deep end, out to sea, and moves landward. By the time Race Weeks begins, Jones speculated, "Hopefully we're not that far along. ... Hopefully we'll work around that."

"The thing that I'm concerned with," Selectman Judy Jacobi said, "is that word -- hopefully."

"There's a lot of planning to do," Jones said. "So we can coincide -- so we can slow up."

"So 'hopefully' shouldn't be in that conversation," Selectman Jim Nye said.

Jones stressed that he was consulting with the yacht clubs to avoid any conflict with Race Week. Fishermen have already received mitigation payments to offset the impact on them.

Sasso suggested that talks with the yacht clubs include plans for dealing with next year's work -- scheduled from May to September -- as well. "The Halifax Race is next year."

The pipeline is intended to last for 30 years, Jones said. It will be inspected at five-year intervals. Neptune officials believe it will provide enough natural gas to serve 1.5 million homes.


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