Towns Gassed Up

By Paul Fournier | September 28, 2010

Underground utility contractor New England Utility Constructors Inc. (NEUCO) is upgrading natural gas distribution lines in Bedford and Westford, Mass., under two separate contracts with KeySpan Corporation.

The Everett, Mass.-based contractor, which specializes in the installation of gas and electric lines, is laying about a mile of 8-inch polyethylene pipe in Bedford and roughly 4,200 feet of the same type of pipe in Westford. According to Dave Newsham, company president, plastic pipe is commonly installed these days for low-pressure lines — 60 psi in this case — instead of steel pipe. Steel is still used for high-pressure (100-psi) transmission lines, or where soil conditions, locations or special circumstances dictate using steel.

For example, in Boston, where underground steam lines are prevalent, gas distribution lines have to be steel, he pointed out.

Established in 1972, the company has about 150 employees, and installs pipe and electrical conduit throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. For distribution lines such as those being installed in Bedford and Westford, they use small to medium-sized equipment for better maneuverability on semi-rural roads. In this situation much of the pipe is being laid along Route 225. This narrow, winding road is unusually busy, preferred by many commuters from northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire to larger highways such as Route 3 to reach work destinations in Bedford, Lexington and other eastern communities.

The contractor's Bedford crew is employing a John Deere 310 backhoe loader as the principal digging machine, with a Bobcat 773 skid-steer loader performing most of the trench backfilling. Trenches are only 2 feet wide by about 4 feet deep — only 3 feet of cover is usually required for gas distribution lines.

Newsham's father, Stan Newsham, is field supervisor for the work crew in Bedford. The elder Newsham worked for more than 40 years for a utility company, retired for a brief period, and decided to come out of retirement, his son said. The crew's foreman is Peter Vallis. According to him, while the pipe installation is taking place less than a quarter-mile from the Concord River, the trench has been surprisingly dry. And ledge has not been a problem, either, he said.

Digging at the Westford location has been a little more difficult, according to foreman Robert Bonollo. This crew struck ledge, but it has been able to break up trench rock using a Ho-Ram hammer mounted on its Case 580 backhoe/loader. Another Case, a 590, is the principal digger, while a Case 75XT skid-steer loader does most of the backfilling. Ron Raymonds is the overall supervisor of this crew.

On a daily basis, the contractor fields somewhere between 45 and 50 crews, said president Newsham. The two crews in Bedford and Westford are installing pipe for KeySpan Corporation, the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast. With headquarters in Brooklyn, New England and Long Island, the company operates gas utilities in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire that serve 2.6 million customers. KeySpan is also the largest electric generator in New York state, with approximately 6,650 megawatts of generating capacity that provides power to 1.1 million customers of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) on Long Island and supplies approximately 25 percent of New York City's capacity needs.

Other utility companies that use the special services of NEUCO are Bay State Gas, Northern Utilities, NStar, New England Gas, Wakefield Gas & Electric, and Blackstone Gas.