Bucksport explores bringing natural gas to downtown

Posted July 15, 2011, at 8:09 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Bucksport officials are in early negotiations with representatives of Bangor Natural Gas about a proposal to extend gas lines to the town’s schools as well as to interested homeowners and businesses along the planned route.

In a letter to Bucksport economic development director David Milan, Bangor Gas representatives proposed 12,400 feet of new pipeline stretching from the Verso Paper plant — which is already a major customer — to the town’s school complex.

The route would begin at the junction of River Road and North Franklin Street, extending east on Franklin to Central Street and then down Broadway to Nicholson Avenue. The line would continue from Broadway to the schools and from Franklin Street to Main Street by Mechanic Street. Construction could begin next spring, according to the company.

Town Manager Roger Raymond said Friday that the company has also expressed a willingness to build additional spurs if enough homes and businesses pledge to connect to the lines. But Bucksport’s schools are the linchpin to the deal.

“The condition for them to provide this to us is they need to be able to provide gas to our schools,” Raymond told members of the Town Council on Thursday night.

During Thursday’s meeting, the council directed the town’s Finance Committee to meet with Bangor Gas officials to discuss the proposal, which as written would require Bucksport to contribute $240,000 of the construction costs. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at the town office.

In his letter to the town, Bangor Gas General Manager Jerry Livengood made clear that the plan is contingent on certain assumptions that would make the project viable financially for the company.

“The project will be a challenge to economically justify due to the infrastructure cost and the estimated revenue generated,” Livengood wrote. “As a result, the success of the project will rely on a close collaboration between the people of Bucksport and Bangor Gas Co.”

In addition to the town’s $240,000 contribution, the other assumptions necessary for Bangor Gas to proceed include:

• A full conversion of Bucksport’s schools and municipal facilities along the route to natural gas.

• Connection of at least 35 residential customers and 10 commercial customers to the natural gas lines.

• Allocation of land or an easement for construction of a pressure regulation station, which is necessary because the Verso mill receives gas at a substantially higher pressure level than homes or businesses could accommodate.

• A 30-year tax increment financing package equal to a direct refund of 50 percent of the taxed amount.

Bucksport public schools consume an average of 73,000 gallons of heating oil per year. In an analysis conducted last year, school officials determined that it would take less than two years for the school system to recoup the costs of switching to natural gas.

Gary Moulton, director of maintenance at RSU 25, which includes Bucksport, said that study assumed that the price of heating oil was $2.50 per gallon. With today’s higher oil prices, the payback period could be as short as one year to a year and a half, Moulton said.

“If we can put more dollars into education rather than utilities, that is always a good thing,” Moulton said Friday.

Raymond said a 2009 study conducted by the town determined that more than 35 percent of those surveyed would be interested in connecting to natural gas. He believes that figure would likely be in excess of 50 percent if the survey were conducted today.

A representative for Bangor Natural Gas could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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