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National Grid steps up gas main work in Hingham

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 5, 2011 05:09 PM

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Hingham selectmen last week approved National Grid's applications for two gas main replacements, which the company has been doing more frequently as of late.

According to Hingham officials, National Grid has been significantly stepping up the replacement of aging pipes, miles of which exist throughout the town, and many of which have been continually problematic.

“They’ve been in the selectmen’s office on a weekly basis asking for grant of locations, and they are fixing some of the worst [mains] that date back the longest and have the highest gas leak history,” Selectmen Chairman John Riley said.

Riley predicted that in the last three years or so, National Grid has fixed several miles of pipe, most of which date back to the early 1900s.

It’s a problem more than just a pungent odor and the potential for unsafe conditions. Leaking mains have also caused damage to nearby trees that have reportedly suffered from the contaminated air.

A lawsuit is still in litigation on whether Hingham and other communities may be able to receive damages from the issue.

In the past, when the comany attempted to fix mains, it sometimes occurred on recently paved roads. Yet according to Department of Public Works Superintendent Harry Sylvester, it’s been an issue largely addressed.

“We’ve had some issues, [but] we’ve worked with them in the last couple of years,” Sylvester said. “There have been longstanding discussions on how to approach it…we have deadlines to make for road repairs and they have refused to replace [broken mains in the past], but we’ve overcome those issues at this point in time… recently they are doing a good job of staying ahead of it.”

Although road replacements aren’t the determining factor in replacing piping, David Graves, a spokesperson for National Grid, said it did play a part.

“We do try to work with the towns in the state so if they do a paving job on a road, we don’t go in the next year and replace the main. So we notify the town of where we want to go, they let us know their paving plan, so we can do it in conjunction,” he said.

National Grid also determines which pipes to fix by focusing on leak history, age of the piping, the material the piping is made out of, and whether recent construction may have disrupted the pipe.

All of those things have come together for Hingham this year, which has had a dozen projects started this construction season.

According to Graves, the work in Hingham is a part of a larger, more ambitious plan to replace over 140 miles of main in Massachusetts this year – replacing leak prone areas, rather than just minor leaks one at a time.

“Some people want you to repair every leak in the system even if it’s not a threat…we don’t think that’s cost effective. The best way is to undertake it is to undergo an ambitious project and replace thousands of feet of main in a fiscal year rather than making [smaller] repairs,” Graves said.

Conducting larger repairs will also help improve the infrastructure’s integrity, whereas smaller fixes would not, Graves said.

It’s a mentality appreciated by town officials, who are happy to see the long-awaited needs finally being addressed.

According to Riley, it’s almost a game of catch-up, especially after seeing little to no action for years from Boston Gas and Keyspan for years, which were both taken over by National Grid in 2007.

“[National Grid] has made the most effort to try to address this,” Riley said. “In the past it was very difficult to get Boston Gas to spend any money on capital improvements. But this company is a bit different. They feel that the need is there.”

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