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    Sunday, May 26, 2024

    Norwich Public Utilities receives $10.9 million grant to replace aging gas lines

    A century-old segment of cast iron natural gas line recently removed from a Norwich street, left, and a high-density seamless plastic pipe that will replace the old lines were on display during a news conference Monday, April 22, 2024 to announce a $10.9 million federal grant to Norwich Public Utilities to replace aged natural gas lines. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Norwich ― A segment of the $1.2 trillion 2021 federal infrastructure law seemed written with Norwich in mind: replace century-old natural gas pipelines in financially distressed communities with city-owned gas companies.

    Norwich Public Utilities natural gas division will receive $10.9 million this year, added to the $10 million received last year, through the program, federal officials announced Monday. The two grants totaling nearly $21 million will replace 9 miles of aging cast iron natural gas pipes that run beneath city streets.

    City and federal officials gathered at City Hall on Monday to celebrate the latest grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    The two grants will allow NPU to condense what had been a 25-year long-term plan to replace the decaying lines into a five-year schedule starting this fall, NPU General Manager Chris LaRose said. The grants will cover nearly all the estimated project cost of $21.5 million, sparing local natural gas ratepayers the expense, LaRose said.

    LaRose said the cast iron lines will be replaced with seamless high density plastic pipes, starting this fall along North Main Street in Greeneville and in the Norwich Free Academy and Asylum Street areas. Work will progress to Norwichtown, East Main Street, Taftville, Shipping Street and Laurel Hill.

    Tristan Brown, U.S. DOT deputy administrator, said within weeks after President Biden signed the infrastructure law, the DOT developed the first-of-its-kind grant program to fix aging natural gas pipes, some of which date back to the Civil War era. Congress allotted $1 billion to the program.

    Brown said the pipes not only present safety hazards if they rupture, but slowly leak methane into the atmosphere, a leading contributor to global warming.

    DOT officials’ stop in Norwich Monday was part of a nationwide tour to award $400 million to 130 grant recipients to replace 1,000 miles of gas lines, Brown said.

    Infrastructure law supporters U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal added their names to the giant check of $10,916,261 delivered to NPU Monday.

    Courtney said the announcement on Earth Day was appropriate, because the work will improve the air quality in southeastern Connecticut.

    With a nod to several NPU union electrical workers in the audience for the news conference, Courtney called the Norwich-New London labor market the fastest growing job market in Connecticut and second-fastest in New England.

    “These kinds of investments are just going to take that momentum to a higher place in terms of making this community safer, more attractive and with the utility as a partner,” Courtney said.

    Courtney and Blumenthal both praised NPU for pursuing federal infrastructure grants aimed at improving financially distressed communities. Blumenthal, who arrived too late for the news conference but in time to sign the giant check, said the funding is critical to help the city eliminate a potential safety and environmental disaster.

    “Norwich is a perfect fit for this new law, most especially on Earth Day,” Blumenthal said. “Leaky pipes put more methane into our atmosphere, which is exactly what we need to stop. Norwich is among our most needy communities, environmentally and financially.”

    Following Monday’s news conference, city leaders quickly ushered the federal lawmakers into the city manager’s office to discuss what they called “future opportunities.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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