Area’s Natural Gas Conversion Nearing Final Phase; Utility: ‘It Took Twice As Long And Cost Twice As Much’

Area’s Natural Gas Conversion Nearing Final Phase; Utility: ‘It Took Twice As Long And Cost Twice As Much’
A natural gas line is pictured in West Ocean City. The line runs along the floor of the bay and connects in Ocean City on 1st Street. Submitted Photos

OCEAN CITY — With the connection of a natural gas pipeline across the bay and into Ocean City nearing the long-awaited finish line, resort officials this week approved a request from Sandpiper Energy to work through the summer to expedite the process.

Sandpiper Energy officials this week presented an update on the process of bringing natural gas across the bay from West Ocean City to downtown Ocean City and the extension of the mains and future connections to properties all over town. The process of extending natural gas lines into Ocean City is now in its final phases with pipelines extending northward from a substation in the south end of town.

In recent years, the lines have been extended southward and eastward, taking in communities such as Berlin, Ocean Pines and West Ocean City, for example, before Sandpiper undertook the process of extending lines beneath the bay floor and into south Ocean City. There have been a few speed bumps along the way including challenges with making the connection under the bay floor, which was delayed at different times during the process.

“This all began with the bay crossing, which was no small task,” said Sandpiper Energy’s Steve Ashcraft on Tuesday. “We thought we’d be done by December 2016, but it took twice as long and cost twice as much money. We had our challenges, but we got it done.”

The overall project has been done in three major phases. The first phase was to make the connection of the natural gas main from Routes 611 and 707 to a bayfront area near Hooper’s. The second and most challenging phase was making the connection under the bay floor from West Ocean City to a substation near 1st Street, which has now been completed.

The third and final phase is making the connections from the downtown substation northward through residential and commercial areas throughout the resort, a process that is now cruising along. Ashcraft explained connections to individual neighborhoods and even individual streets and homes is now ongoing, but some flexibility was needed in the scheduling to allow Sandpiper to meet its goal of having Ocean City completely piped and connected by 2023.

“Our intention was to not do any work during the tourist season,” he said. “Since we’ve gotten to the more densely populated residential portion of this project, we would like permission to work during the season. There is no underground work and what we have left to do is pretty low impact stuff. It will really expedite this project.”

Ashcraft said Sandpiper was handling about 350 accounts in Montego Bay and the company can make connections with about a dozen accounts in a week, which would take them through the summer. He said with most of the accounts, the existing tanks are at the rear of the property and there would be little disruption or even visibility from the resident and visitor standpoint. He said the next and last section to tackle is around the densely populated 94th Street corridor with around 542 connections anticipated.

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A worker is pictured at a downtown natural gas substation in Ocean City.

“Those 542 will take about 27 weeks to complete if all goes according to plan,” he said. “That would allow us to finish up late in 2020 and by early 2021, Ocean City would be completely done.”

Ashcraft said when the need arose to put pipes underground, Sandpiper would coordinate with the town’s public works department and its ongoing street paving project.

“Our intent is to have every property in Ocean City supplied with natural gas,” he said. “The town has a five-year program for repaving and we’ll coordinate with public works and identify the streets that are on the same schedule. We’re here for the long haul until Ocean City is completely piped.”

Ashcraft extolled the economic benefit of converting from propane to natural gas for many customers as well as the environmental benefits.

“When we’re finished, we will have displaced 3,700 tons of propane in Ocean City,” he said. “That’s the equivalent of 900 cars taken off the road, of the equivalent of 1,200 emissions.”

The next major step in the process is converting residential and commercial accounts to the natural gas system. Local residents and property owners should start receiving postcards from Sandpiper in the coming weeks outlining how the conversion process works. The last step will be running lines from the street to individual residences and ultimately converting gas appliances from propane to natural gas. Council Secretary Mary Knight said the conversion process has already been completed in her neighborhood and praised the company for its efficiency.

“At the end of this process, customers will see a reduction in cost once the conversion is completely done,” she said. “We had our home converted with multiple appliances and gas fireplaces and it was seamless. It was an extremely good process.”

Knight made a motion to allow Sandpiper Energy to work through the summer months to expedite the completion of the project. The motion passed unanimously.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.