Anyone wondering about the progress of the Enstar Natural Gas trunk and distribution lines on the lower Kenai Peninsula doesn’t have to look far. From Anchor Point along the Sterling Highway to West Hill Road and Fairview Avenue, big 8-inch lines snake in and out of the ground on the trunk line, now about 45 percent complete. On side streets, workers in hard hats and bright green safety vests bring the 2-inch and 4-inch distribution lines to homes and businesses in Kachemak City. Even in areas that haven’t seen construction crews, surveyors have marked rights of ways and utility companies have spray-painted lines and numbers on the ground showing the location of services like phone and cable, water and sewer and electricity.
Enstar holds a Plumbing and Heating Code Meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. June 27 at the Best Western Bidarka Inn to answer questions on codes for converting to natural gas.
With construction has come some confusion and a lot of questions. Enstar encourages people with specific questions to check in at the Homer office or call the corporate office, said John Sims, Enstar communications director. Here are answers to some questions many might have:
What do all those stakes mean?
Wooden lath stakes with flagging show the edge of the rights of way or the border between private property and the road and utility easement. Most city streets have a 60-foot wide right of way, with 30 feet on either side of the center of the road, said Chet Frost, manager of the Homer Enstar office.
The gas distribution lines will go on the road side of the stakes, at least 5 feet but up to 12 feet, depending on terrain and other conditions, Frost said. A circled number on the stake indicates how many feet from the property edge the line will go in.
Measuring from the stakes the specified distance toward the road will give landowners an idea of where the line will go. Enstar has to work around other utilities already in the area.
“It’s just a very careful process,” Sims said. “Obviously you don’t want to damage somebody else’s line. You put it where you can.”
• What about trees that are in the right of way? Will they be cut down?
That’s a tough question to answer, Sims said, and will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Enstar and its contractors will try to save trees
“If it’s identified to us very early in the process, we’ll do our best effort,” he said. “Typically, we’re clearing the right of way.”
For example, for a service line on Bayview Avenue to a house with a row of spruce trees in the right of way, Enstar bored under the owner’s driveway and inside the trees to get a service line to the house.
• What about gas lines that cross driveways?
Again, it varies on a case by case basis. Typically, contractors run an open trench, cutting up the driveway and then coming back and repaving it.
“Our industry standard is to leave it as good or as better as we found it,” Frost said.
Sims said in some cases gas lines will be bored under driveways.
“It really depends on the situation and what’s in the area,” he said.
• What about fences and mailboxes in the gas line path?
Sims said that it’s the landowner’s responsibility to move any personal property in the way. Landowners would have been notified early on of intrusions. It’s their responsibility to move it, he said.
• What are those weird straw tubes, straw mats and plastic fences?
The gas line project uses a SWPPT, or storm water pollution and prevention plan, Frost said. To keep silt and muddy water from flowing into creeks and streams, workers place things like wattles, the name for the straw tubes, across ditches to collect silt. The plastic stretched between stakes is called a silt fence. That’s removed when the project is done.
Where disturbed ground becomes muddy, workers also lay down erosion control mats, the straw mats. That holds the ground together until vegetation takes root. Disturbed areas will be hydroseeded, Frost said.
• Why are some pipes bigger than others?
The main trunk line from Anchor Point to East End Road is an 8-inch line, the biggest pipe. From East End Road to Kachemak City the trunk line becomes 6-inch pipe. Distribution lines off the trunk line are 2-inches or 4-inches wide. Services lines to homes and small buildings are ¾-inch wide, while service lines to big commercial or public users like the hospital will be 1-inch or 2-inch lines. The lines of pipe lying on the ground and welded together are tested to make sure the welds are done right.
• What’s the deadline to get service this year?
To guarantee a service line this construction season, customers must have signed up and paid service fees by July 1. Service is done on a first-come, first-served basis, Sims said. Customers signing up after that date might get service before freeze up, but that’s not assured.
However, if customers apply for service by the end of the year, they will be locked in at the current tariff of $1,290 for a service line 100 feet or less. Gas meters cannot be installed until a gas appliance is ready.
Although the application requests Social Security numbers, those aren’t required, Sims said. Customers can use identifying numbers like driver’s license numbers instead. Because Enstar is federally regulated, it has to follow U.S. laws requiring identity checks so that, for example, an ex-spouse couldn’t sign up in a former husband or wife’s name and not pay bills.
• How is the price of natural gas determined? What guarantee is there that gas won’t be more expensive than fuel oil?
Enstar determines its rates based on contracts it signs with gas producers. Usually, the price is determined using indices from the Lower 48 states and averaged over several years. Gas prices have remained consistent over the past few years, Sims said.
Just as with electricity rates for Homer Electric Association, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska has authority over gas prices charged by Enstar. It also approves gas supply contracts with producers more than year long, Sims said.
Recent legislation and exploration has improved prospects for stable supplies.
“I think the clouds are starting clear here from a gas supply front, in the short term,” Sims said.
Natural gas should remain competitive with fuel oil, he said. The chemistry of refining fuel oil and transportation generally make fuel oil more expensive than natural gas, he said.
“Historically, natural gas has been significantly cheaper than fuel oil, and we expect that to continue,” Sims said.
“That’s one of the benefits of natural gas: you can transport it by pipeline, which makes it cheap.”
• Have there been complaints or concerns raised about the gas line project?
Not really, Sims said.
“We anticipated a little more communication and feedback. Everything up to this point has been positive,” Sims said. “The city did a good job of setting up expectations.”
“Everybody in Homer has been very helpful and very understanding. We’ve had very few problems,” Frost said. “Everybody’s excited about having gas. They understand it’s going to move them to a cleaner sources of energy and it’s going to be more cost effective for them.”
For updates on the Homer area projects, visit Enstar’s website at www.enstarnaturalgas.com/HomerExpansion.aspx
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Anchor Point, Homer and Kachemak City natural gas build-out
8-inch trunk line from Anchor Point to Homer and Kachemak City,
2- and 4-inch distribution lines
in Homer and Kachemak City
Meetings and deadlines:
June 27, 1-3 p.m., Best Western Bidarka Inn
Plumbing and Heating Code Meeting
to answer questions
on codes for converting to natural gas
July 1: Deadline to apply for gas service in the 2013 construction season
Dec. 31: Deadline to apply for gas service at the 2013 tariff rates
• Trunk line:
• Homer distribution line: United Technologies Inc.
• Kachemak City distribution line: Clark Management
345 Sterling Highway, Suite 104
(across from Pioneer Avenue and highway intersection)
Chet Frost, Homer manager
Charlie Pierce, Kenai Peninsula manager
36225 Kenai Spur Highway
John Sims, corporate communications