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O&R's Focus on Gas Main Replacement, New Training Program, Damage Prevention at Orange Muni Briefing

O&R outlined its plans to upgrade and expand its natural gas system, to better protect that system from damage caused by excavators and to help train more technicians to work on that system last week at its Orange County Municipal Information Exchange.

Approximately 50 people from Orange’s DPWs, emergency services and village and town civic and government leaders attended the morning-long session at the Orange County Fire Training Center in New Hampton.

O&R Vice President – Customer Service Edwin Ortiz welcomed the group, noting, “This is the first information exchange we have devoted exclusively to our gas operations. The reason we have is because we have some important and interesting developments to share with you about these activities.”

O&R Vice President – Operations Francis Peverly talked about O&R’s gas system expansion and upgrade plans.

He said, “O&R is using the opportunity presented by declining natural gas commodity costs to make significant investments in its delivery system while minimizing rate impacts. Changes in our tariff and the introduction of various gas appliance incentives are now allowing us to provide gas service to those who may not have been able to afford to avail themselves of our product in the past. This situation is offering a unique window to grow our business in ways not previously possible.”

He added, “In addition, O&R is increasing its replacement of aging pipeline infrastructure. Within the next couple of years the last vestiges of our low pressure system in Orange County will be completely eliminated.”

Since 1997, O&R has replaced two million feet of aging cast-iron and unprotected steel gas pipe with high-tech plastic mains that are more durable and provide more reliable, safer service. The company replaced 95,000 feet in 2015 and plans to replace another 110,000 feet of gas main in 2016, 115,000 feet in 2017 and 120,000 feet in 2018. Retiring the low pressure gas system, reduces system leaks and enhances the safety and reliability of the gas distribution system.

Replacing that aging infrastructure has created a large number of jobs for trained gas technicians and promises to create even more jobs for years to come.

To broaden the labor pool of qualified natural gas pipeline technicians, O&R is partnering with Rockland Community College’s (RCC) Division of Continuing Education and SUNY Orange’s Continuing and Professional Education staff to sponsor a gas technician training course — a program that could lead the successful student to a career in the natural gas construction industry.

Peverly said, “That high demand for trained personnel has created a situation where, right now, there are more jobs open than there are trained techs to fill them. We decided to try to do something about that. The result is this program.”

The program also offers a job fair at the conclusion of the course to try to match the program’s pre-qualified mechanics with contractor construction companies. The program’s spring session is already filled and in progress but another session is planned for the fall.

O&R also highlighted one of its chief safety concerns in the operation of its natural gas system: damage to its underground natural gas lines. Most of that damage comes from excavators who fail to request utility company ground markings to guide them safely past those mains and services. Those markings --- paint on the ground or small color-coded flags — show the location of gas mains and service lines and other underground facilities.

One toll-free call to the utility notification service at 811 can help to get an excavation project safely underway. The utility notification service contacts O&R and the company will mark the location of its underground electric and gas facilities at no charge. The 811 service also will notify other utilities (telephone, cable, sewer and water) to mark their facilities as well.

Anyone doing excavating work, regardless of the depth, including contractors, landscapers and homeowners must call 811 at least two, but not more than 10, working days before the project is due to begin.

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