Gas heat could be on in Malone by fall

MALONE – Natural gas may be heating buildings in the northern end of Franklin County by this fall, but it won’t make its way south.

St. Lawrence Gas Assistant Manager Jim Ward told the Franklin County Board on Thursday that his company is waiting to finish an installation process that began in fall 2012. The project will stretch their pipeline 48 miles, from the town of Stockholm in St. Lawrence County to the village of Chateaugay in Franklin County. The project got the go-ahead in 2012 from the state Public Service Commission.

Ward said the North Country landscape has delayed the project, to which Franklin County has committed about $1.3 million.

“What we ran into, right off the bat, was extreme conditions, especially when we had to bore under a river or bore under a wetland,” Ward said. “That held us back, and we really stopped construction last December of 2012.”

The work resumed in April 2013, but it proved to be more involved than the gas company anticipated.

Ward said there will be three bores once the project is completed. One is almost finished, and the other two are at least halfway complete, he said.

“It should be a good summer for us,” Ward said. “We’ve already installed about 70,000 feet of distribution line, and most of that has been in Franklin County.”

Ward said the project has cost just under $39 million so far and that a lot of that money has been spent in the local community.

“We’re obviously very anxious to get that revenue flowing and get that gas flowing through to the end,” Ward said. “The project has created over 100 construction jobs in 2012 and 2013. There will probably be another 50 jobs this year and every year after for the five-year project.”

Despite the delays, Ward said businesses in Malone could be hooked up to natural gas by fall. He said that should save people money on next winter’s heating costs.

County board Chairman Billy Jones said he is anxious to get the natural gas flowing to residents. Legislator Carl Sherwin, D-Malone, asked if that would ever happen at the south end of the county.

“The answer to that is probably no under current technologies,” Ward said. “One option is CNG – compressed natural gas. You don’t have to run the pipeline through the rock and the mountain. You’d build a distribution system and fill that with CNG, and you bring a trailer and you hook that up to a plant or to a distribution center. I think to try to build a pipeline from here to Saranac Lake is not doable. The distance is the killer for the project cost.”

Ward said the state Adirondack Park Agency could also provide a hurdle for a compressed natural gas facility, but he said the state Public Service Commission is exploring options for getting natural gas to rural areas, so there is hope.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, said this is one reason he’d like to get a railroad running again through his community.

“We’ve talked about using the rail line to ship gas into a compressed gas farm that would service Saranac Lake and Tupper,” Maroun said. “It’s being looked at.”

Maroun, who is also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake, voted last year at a village board meeting in favor of keeping the tracks along the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor. The village board instead passed a resolution in favor of replacing the tracks with a recreational trail, in a 3-2 vote.

Maroun said as a legislator he voted in favor of the natural gas project even though he knew it wouldn’t benefit his end of the county because he thought it would help convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to keep the Chateaugay Correctional facility open. Despite rallies held in Franklin County and Albany to keep the facility open, Cuomo maintained in the state budget that the facility would close in July, as previously scheduled.

The Chateaugay facility’s 75 corrections officers won’t be laid off but will instead be added to a transfer list, meaning many of them might have to relocate to secure work. The prison currently employs 111 people, totaling $7.8 million in payroll a year.

“I am really disappointed, really disappointed the governor didn’t take that into consideration,” Maroun said. “The natural gas would have reduced the heating of that facility by about 50 percent, which is why (former) Legislator (Tim) Burpoe (of Saranac Lake) and I voted for this. A lot of people said we should have levied a utility tax on this so the taxpayers in the whole county wouldn’t have to pay for this if they weren’t using it. One of the reasons I voted for this is because we thought it would help that Chateaugay Correctional Facility (stay) open.”

Ward said he’d love to have the facility as a costumer, but added that its closure shouldn’t cause higher gas bills.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@ adirondackdailyenterprise.com.