OSWEGO — National Grid is seeking to bore a tunnel underneath the Oswego River to install a natural gas pipeline, a plan that has city officials concerned about the potential disruption to Port City neighborhoods in the form of around-the-clock noise.
The public utility, which owns and operates natural gas and electrical lines in the region, is proposing to drill a more than 2,000-foot long tunnel underneath the Oswego River next year. City officials tabled National Grid’s request for an exemption to the city’s noise ordinance earlier this week, citing a desire to gather more information related to noise pollution disrupting neighborhoods during the summer months.
National Grid Senior Counsel Benjamin Weisel addressed the council Monday on behalf of the company, and said for more than 30 years the utility company has operated a natural gas pipeline underneath the Oswego River, known as Pipeline 55. Weisel told councilors the company must bypass the existing pipeline by constructing a new, 2,400-foot section of pipe via horizontal directional drilling.
Weisel said the National Grid proposal is strictly for “safety and compliance purposes,” noting the original pipeline constructed in 1986 must be replaced to ensure continued safe and reliable natural gas service to the area. He called the pipeline “a vital source of power” for the region, and noted the proposal is federally mandated and “important work.”
“National Grid understands that our construction activities will take place in proximity to residential uses and two nursing homes and we are very sensitive to the impact our construction activities could have,” Weisel told the council, explaining the company was planning to take several steps to mitigate the noise.
According to documents provided to the city by National Grid, the pipeline would start on the west side of the river, south of National Grid’s facility and north of Burden Drive, and continue underneath the river bed north of Oswego Canal Lock 6 before terminating on the east side of the Oswego River at a point between the St. Luke and Pontiac health and rehabilitation facilities.
National Grid officials told the council the company would prefer to start the project in April 2020. An estimated timeline provided by National Grid suggested the project would take nearly six months, with around the clock work for roughly 78 days during that timeframe.
Councilor Ron Tesoriero, R-6th Ward, who represents the area on the city’s east side in which National Grid has proposed the work, expressed significant concern about the amount of noise the project would generate. He said “people around here live for summer,” and don’t want to be aggravated by loud construction noise during the warmer months.
“You have to come up with a different way,” he said. “I cannot support this and I will not support this. This is not in the betterment of the city of Oswego or its residents.”
Tesoriero asked Weisel to come back to the council with a better plan that would not be invasive to city residents. The city Planning and Development Committee unanimously tabled the request.
National Grid spokesperson Virginia Limmiatis in a Wednesday statement to The Palladium-Times said the company appeared before the council this week, 11 months before the project is scheduled to begin, to “ensure the city was aware of the the project, to listen to any concerns the city might have and to address them to the maximum extent practicable.”
“We are eager to meet with city officials again to address their concerns and seek their approval of this important and required work,” she said.
Mayor Billy Barlow approved of the council’s decision to table the measure, saying this week he had no confidence that National Grid would be sensitive to the concerns of the city or residents. Barlow said his experience with National Grid has been “terrible,” especially in relation to the downtown improvement projects currently underway in the city.
“I have no problem taking some extra time to review their upcoming project, which will surely cause some long-term disturbances for our residents,” Barlow said. “I believe taking some time to take a closer look and review some details is necessary.”
During the Monday meeting, Tesoriero asked exactly how loud the noise of the construction would be throughout the project.
Barbara Wagner, an environmental engineer with Stantec Consulting, said the noise levels during construction at most of the surrounding properties would be below 65 decibels, which she compared to the noise generated by two people conversing about three feet apart. Wagner said some properties, however, would experience noise levels of about 75 decibels, or about the same as a busy urban downtown.
City Engineering Technician Bob Johnson said the noise levels would be a disturbance to the neighborhood on both sides of the river. He told members of the council there were questions that remained unanswered, including why the project could not be completed during the winter months and why certain portions of the project must be performed 24 hours per day.
Weisel pointed to several reasons the company has chosen to perform the construction during the summer, which include worker safety and cold temperatures could freeze drilling fluid. He said the company would primarily be working on the project six days per week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but certain portions of the work require around the clock operations.
City Attorney Kevin Caraccioli said the proposed work is mandated and there is “no way around it.”
“The issue, for the city and the company, to resolve is the manner and timing of the work,” he said. “When it’s to be done and how it’s to be done to minimize the disturbance to residents of the city.”
Caraccioli said with the project still 11 months out, the city would be working with National Grid to try to address some of the concerns raised by city officials. He said the company has already reached out and the parties would attempt to make progress in the coming weeks and months.
Limmiatis said National Grid has offered to take a number of steps to mitigate the noise, including constructing a temporary noise barrier around equipment to absorb sound and block light. The company also plans to require contractors to use the quietest equipment possible, in addition to sound mufflers, silencers, and acoustic insulation to reduce noise to the maximum extent practical.
“We will have a noise mitigation plan, to be followed by our contractors, including shutting down noise-generating equipment when it is not needed and moving workers away as far as possible from residences when they are not working to ensure they don’t disturb our neighbors,” Limmiatis said.