Crew begins digging upstate natural-gas pipeline

Julie Sherwood

Work on the 77-mile natural-gas pipeline known as the Empire Connector Project is in full swing in Ontario County, with some 265 workers on the job along sections of the 33 miles the pipeline will cross in the county.

The $177 million project is crossing Ontario, Yates, Schuyler, Chemung and Steuben counties, burying 24-inch-diameter pipe that will transport natural gas from Buffalo to a link-up with the New York-city area.

Through Ontario County it will cross 182 properties en route from Victor to the Yates County border in the town of Seneca. All but four property owners have signed right-of-way agreements, said Julie Coppola Cox, spokeswoman for Buffalo-based National Fuel Gas Company. Reasons for the delay in reaching agreements vary, she said. They include a recent re-routing of the pipeline on a property near the Thruway and arrangements that must be made to accommodate a septic system.

The entire pipeline project is on schedule, said Coppola Cox. The gas should begin flowing this November. It will serve 1 million customers.

Meanwhile, some mighty powerful machines and a number of work crews have come to town to prepare the right-of-ways, dig the trenches and bury the pipe. The pipeline is being built in sections, with 80-foot-long lengths trucked up from Louisiana, said Joseph Gezik, ombudsman for the project. Each section weighs 8,000 pounds, he said, and must be strategically placed and maneuvered according to strict government guidelines.

Gezik is a Pennsylvania resident who has made a campground in Ontario County his temporary home during the building of the pipeline here. He is on call 24-hours a day to respond to questions and concerns from residents and has addressed everything from rose bushes to dirt piles, he said.

For example, in one case a farmer needed crews to move a dirt pile they had created from digging because it was blocking the farmer’s access to portions of his field. In another case, a person was concerned construction would harm nearby rose bushes, which were then moved to safety.

Safety is a key consideration in building the line, said Gezik. That was evident during a tour of activities going on this week. Work was being done near Stoddard Road in Hopewell, Townline Road in Canandaigua, Routes 5 and 20 in Canandaigua and Hopewell, Lake to Lake Road in Seneca and Gorham, and Robson Road in Seneca.

Warning flags and men in hard hats were everywhere on site, performing their various duties on foot and in machines.

Walter Thomas was on the crew on Townline Road between Canandaigua and Farmington Tuesday afternoon following a big rain storm. He and others employed by Otis Eastern Service Inc. of Wellsville were creating rock pads and laying down planks and tires to allow a massive bulldozer to cross the road without damaging it. Gezik estimated the mammoth machine weighs some 25 tons.

Thomas said he doesn’t mind working in all types of weather. “We are here and we are prepared,” he said.

 At another work site, off Goose Street in Seneca, a vacuum attachment was being used on an excavator to move pipes before they are connected and later placed in the ground. The technique protects the pipe’s coating and makes moving pipes into place much easier than hauling, said Gezik.

To contact Gezik call (814) 730-3585; or (814) 837-7242.

Contact Daily Messenger writer Julie Sherwood at (585) 394-0770, ext. 263, or