By DENISE A. RAYMO Press-Republican
---- — MALONE — The natural-gas distribution system through Franklin County is behind schedule and over budget, and future users will pay for the delays.
A report from Enbridge-St. Lawrence Gas General Manager Jim Ward said the company had spent $39 million as of December 2013 on the 48-mile project but will not have Franklin County customers online until late spring or summer.
Construction crews encountered unexpected boulders in three spots in the Brushton area that they have to drill through in order to properly place the gas-line piping, he said.
The project began in earnest last April with the plan to have both large- and small-scale customers obtaining service by the fall.
But, ironically, the only company hooked into the system is North Country Dairy in North Lawrence in St. Lawrence County, where the county legislature has so far refused to allocate any of the $600,000 it was asked to contribute to the natural-gas project.
Ward said the extended winter cold has caused almost as much trouble as the boulders.
“The weather has been brutal,” he said.
Once temperatures warm up and contractors have solved the boulder issues, Ward said, the company will begin a public-education push as natural-gas service is established.
The biggest issue will be teaching people the proper steps to take if they smell the odor additive the company uses to help detect a leak or other problems with the pipeline system, he said.
Ward said Malone will be hooked up first, the state prisons will be brought online next, and Alice Hyde Medical Center will be right behind. Priority then goes to the Agri-Mark McCadam Cheese plant in Chateaugay.
The goal is to have 657 customers using natural gas by the end of 2014.
“We’ve laid 70,000 feet of the distribution line in Franklin County, and we’re planning to get users on as soon as the pipeline is ready,” Ward said. “We’re very anxious to get revenue flowing.”
Franklin County has contributed about $1.5 million toward pre-planning, design and early phases of the project, and former Gov. David Paterson pledged $2.5 million in state funds toward it.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) secured another $2 million, and the company is kicking in the rest.
But it will recoup that investment with a surcharge it requested through the State Public Service Commission, which issued the original pipeline permits.
A year ago, construction costs surpassed the expected price by $9 million, and the company received permission to pass that cost onto system users across the seven-year development period.
Ward said the company will now have to extend collection of the surcharge beyond its original time frame but did not say for how much longer.
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org The goal amount of customers hopefully using natural gas by the end of 2014.