MALONE - The geology of the North Country has slowed down a natural gas pipeline project, but St. Lawrence Gas Assistant Manager Jim Ward said service should still be available by winter.
Ward told the Franklin County Board of Legislators Thursday that workers had to complete three difficult bores this year. Two of those are done, and the last one is in the works.
"What we're dealing with is, we go down through boulders, and then it's almost a gravelly, packed material, then you get into solid rock, then there's another layer of gravel," Ward said. "What causes our delays in the bores are those conditions. We can go down through the boulders, and get into the hard rock, but if the driller has to change his drill bit he pulls out and the rocks shift, so he has to go back down and move those rocks."
Ward said he hopes to have the bores complete by the end of August so natural gas can start flowing. The piping has already been installed at the three Malone prisons and the McAdam cheese plant in Chateaugay. The project needs to be finished and upgrades need to be made to those facilities before they can use natural gas.
Board Chairman Billy Jones said residents, businesses and public entities like schools have asked why contractors aren't actively hooking customers up to the system.
Ward explained that the distribution system would take some time, but in the meantime he said his company is working to get customers ready by Nov. 1. He listed more than a half-dozen streets in Fort Covington that already have residences hooked into the system. He said several hundred customers have signed on and should have gas available to them by winter.
Ward urged the legislators to be patient and reminded them that his company has spent about $40 million on the project so far.
"The distribution system is going to take time," Ward said. "We can't put every main in all at once. For our first year of distribution, our model said we were going to install 26,000 feet of distribution pipe. We actually installed 86,000 feet. We pushed hard last year because we assumed gas would be on."
Before natural gas can be piped into buildings, an odorant must be added so people can better detect gas leaks by smell. The pipes carrying the gas have to be conditioned, or "pickled," before that can happen.
"When the odorant is first introduced, the steel piping actually counteracts the odorant," Ward said. "We have to monitor that. That's a process that will take some time."
The installation process began in fall 2012 after receiving permission from the state Public Service Commission. Franklin County has committed about $1.5 million to the project, which will stretch a St. Lawrence Gas pipeline 48 miles, from the town of Stockholm in St. Lawrence County to the village of Chateaugay in Franklin County.
There are currently no plans to extend natural gas service into the southern end of the county.