National Grid, city nearing compromise on drilling

National Grid’s Ben Weisel explains the company’s upcoming plans to drill a natural gas pipeline under the Oswego River at this week’s Common Council meeting.

OSWEGO — National Grid engineers will make “drastic changes” to a plan for a pipeline underneath the Oswego River after city officials protested the energy utility company’s initial proposal based on concerns the noise and overnight drilling would impact residents’ quality of life.

In compliance with federal regulations requiring natural gas pipelines to be regularly inspected, National Grid’s so-called Pipeline 55 Relocation Project would use horizontal directional drilling under the Oswego River to install a bypass of the existing 33-year-old pipeline stretching from the city’s west to east sides.  

National Grid Senior Counsel Ben Wiesel said the project would allow National Grid’s engineers to more closely inspect the transmission of natural gas for local customers.

“We are making our pipes ‘piggable’ — what that means is it allows a robotics computer to travel through the pipe and ensure the safe and reliable transmission of natural gas to our customers,” Wiesel told councilors at Monday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting. “We can inspect the pipe while service continues. This is a very important pipe — it services thousands of homes and businesses in Oswego.”

National Grid’s initial proposal in May called for more than two months of around-the-clock work. The plan was met with skepticism from city officials who cited potential disruption to Port City neighborhoods during the summer months. Councilors at the time tabled a request to waive the city’s noise ordinance and asked the utility company to come back with a better plan that would be less invasive to city residents.

The 10-member National Grid engineering team assigned to the project went back to the drawing board to make changes to the project

The revised project, set to begin in the spring of 2021, would move the project away from residential areas, reduce noise and minimize the number of nights drilling would take place, according to company officials.

City officials extended gratitude to National Grid officials at Monday’s meeting after the energy supply company presented a modified pipe relocation project. Mayor Billy Barlow, who previously expressed doubt in National Grid’s ability to be sensitive to the concerns of city officials and residents, said this week the company did “a nice job” reducing the level of disturbance and limiting issues that would negatively impact nearby property owners.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the way they went back and took more consideration of the neighbors into account and covered most of the city’s concerns,” Barlow said.  

The first proposal would have located the project’s entry point north of Burden Drive and continue under the river bed north of Oswego Canal Lock 6 before terminating on the east side of the city between St. Luke and Pontiac Care and Rehabilitation Center. Councilor Ronald Tesoriero, R-6th Ward, told National Grid officials in May he “cannot support this [project],” citing neighborhood disturbances in his ward.

Weisel said the 10 members of National Grid’s central New York division assigned to the project heeded concerns “very seriously,” having met every day since the plan was initially rejected in May to draft changes that would accommodate residential concerns.

According to Weisel’s Monday presentation, the initial plan would have impacted 1,536 homes with noise exceeding 50 dBa, approximately the noise level of light traffic or a refrigerator; the revised seven-month plan would minimize this to 116 homes.

The new entry point for the bypass would be in a tree-lined area near the Oswego Country Club, and the drilling would be muffled with noise mitigation technology, Weisel said. The latest proposal reduces overnight construction to 11 days, down from 66 in the first draft.

Only 49 homes will be subject to overnight noise, down from 941 in the original plan’s logistics, according to Weisel. He said 595 homes would have been affected by the noise during the daytime under the original plan, but the relocation to the less developed area around the Oswego Country Club would reduce this to 67.  

“They redesigned the entire project based on our comments, and I don’t think we could get a better plan,” Oswego City Engineering Technician Robert Johnson said at Monday night’s committee meeting.

Company officials estimate the revised project will last seven months, from spring to fall of 2021, but according to company officials the requirements to drill in bedrock in the new location will make for a more “variable” timeline. At the councilors’ request, company officials agreed to provide the city’s engineering department periodical project updates to make sure the project is on schedule.

“Given these factors, National Grid will do its very best to meet the estimated timeline, and we will continue to communicate with local officials during the extent of the project,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

The Planning and Development Committee Monday gave the 10-member team the green light with their approval of a waiver of the noise ordinance based on the proposal’s latest revisions. The full council will take up the issue at a future meeting, officials said.

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