Bucksport natural gas project cost estimates higher than anticipated

Posted June 05, 2012, at 7:26 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — The project to bring natural gas service to Bucksport residents and businesses may have hit another financial obstacle.

Representatives from Bangor Gas Co. recently told Bucksport town officials that cost estimates for a gas pressure regulation station needed for the project came back significantly higher than anticipated.

Bangor Gas is now talking with other vendors and exploring alternatives that could reduce the costs. But if those efforts are unsuccessful, the town may have to chip in additional money toward construction, Bucksport’s economic development director, Dave Milan, said this week.

This latest development comes roughly one week before Bucksport voters will decide whether to authorize the Town Council to spend up to $300,000 toward the project. That figure is $60,000 higher than the original amount Bucksport had hoped to chip in.

Bangor Gas is considering laying down natural gas lines along Main Street to Elm Street before heading north toward the school complex. The prospect of serving the RSU 25 schools is a major reason Bangor Gas proposed the expansion, but the project also hinges on enough residential or business customers along the planned route signing on as well.

Jon Kunz, marketing and sales manager at Bangor Gas, could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday. But Milan said Kunz recently told him that that the company plans to explore other options for the regulator station, which is necessary to lower the pressure of the gas in order to provide service to homes and businesses.

“They want to take another stab at it to see if they can get the price to come down,” Milan said.

It was unclear if that process will be complete before the June 12 referendum on whether the town should chip in up to $300,000 for the project. If the local contribution remains above $300,000, Town Council members will have to decide whether to move forward with the project, likely requiring another town vote.

Bucksport officials have been talking about bringing natural gas lines to downtown for more than a decade, and Bangor Gas installed a connection point at the Verso Paper mill in anticipation of such an expansion.

But the process has been moving slower than some had hoped.

More than 50 would-be customers along the planned route and another 50 or so in the vicinity have expressed an interest in connecting to natural gas due to the disparity between the prices of gas and heating oil. RSU 25 expects to recoup the costs of transitioning to natural gas in less than two years.

RSU 25 officials incorporated anticipated savings from converting to natural gas into the school district’s proposed budget for next year. If the gas lines are not installed in time for next year’s heating season, however, the school will have to divert some money from the district’s list of capital projects in order to cover the additional costs for heating oil next year.

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