New Canaan came one step closer to tapping into the natural gas pipeline that runs through town, a move that could save the town -- and taxpayers -- hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in future.
The Parks and Recreation Commission recommended placing a facility, called a gate station, that would allow the town to tap into the interstate natural gas pipeline that runs below Waveny Park. The proposed site for the station would be between Lapham Road and the paddle courts and swimming pool, the commission recommended at its Wednesday, Feb. 13, meeting.
"In our discussion, this area was considered to be the least intrusive into the natural setting of Waveny Park," the commission stated in its motion recommending a site. The site would allow visual access for security purposes, and given the slope of the land, the building could possibly be built into the hillside."
The gate station would be on a parcel of land 160 feet long and 30 feet wide and have the function of converting the high-pressure gas pumped express through the interstate Texas El Paso transmission, owned by Tenneco, to lower pressures that can be used by the town. Gas in the pipeline ranges in pressure from 750 to 1,440 pounds per square inch, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. New Canaan Fire Marshal Fred Baker said for gas lines that run under town streets, the pressure cannot exceed 99 pounds per square inch.
According to many at the meeting, Baker has been a major factor in the natural gas project. He explained that natural gas in New Canaan could have a major fire safety effect.
"With our plethora of restaurants, all of them use gas to cook with," he said. "They use propane, which is stored in tanks. Downtown there are about 75 100-gallon tanks. They're up to code but they do present a fire hazard. I would like to see them replaced."
The ability to have natural gas piped in directly to the restaurants would allow for the removal of those 75 gas-filled "fire hazards" from downtown.
Another reason the town has for this project is that it could realize substantial energy savings for some of the large buildings in the area.
"I did an analysis of the three school buildings (South, Saxe and the high school)," said Scott LaShelle of New Canaan's Utilities Commission. "That (accounts for) about $775,000 a year (in energy costs). Natural gas would be about $279,000 a year. Savings would be about $400,000 to 500,000 a year for those three."
He explained that natural gas prices in the United States have been driven down steeply in recent years.
"The U.S. is going through a cataclysmic event in energy, both because of the shale natural gas found in Pennsylvania and also because they're finding much more oil in places like North Dakota," LaShelle said.
What the commission did not want was a loud, industrial-looking building plopped down in Waveny Park. Chairman Bob Rogers took a look at a similar gate station in Weston that he said looked like a Cape Cod-style building, and raised the question of whether something similar could be done at Waveny.
"The interior is code. The exterior is up to what the town chooses," said Yankee Gas sales manager Mike Collins, who attended the meeting to answer questions. "If you wanted it to be like the pool house, if you wanted it too look like Waveny castle, that's all easily done."
Rogers said the noise would not be a problem.
"I would characterize the one in Westport as a low whoosh, but you do hear it," he said at the meeting. "It really is not bothersome. It was a steady sound. It's not an up and down. My guess is a paddle player who would hear it would immediately forget it once he hit the ball."
Since the objective of the meeting was only to discuss the siting of the station, those who may have voiced opposition to the entire proposal were not heard. Still, some critical questions were raised.
"It seems to me that probably within the last year this has come up by various council members and always it was shot down because of expense or safety," she said at the meeting. "I'm thinking, `Have I been living under a rock?' How did we get from there to picking a site?"
Rogers responded that Yankee Gas' first presentation to the town in 2011 was a bad one, but the project never really died.
"We've had 18 months of meetings. I think Fred (Baker) kept on it and now people are saying lets dot the i's and cross the t's."
Several people at the meeting explained that there has been a resurgence of energy for the project under First Selectman Rob Mallozzi.
"It all started three years ago," Mallozzi said in an interview. "The previous administration didn't do a good job of leading that discussion. This administration has taken the time and pain to work with groups to shepherd it through (the process). It's gotten a lot farther in one year than it did in the previous three."
One other bone of contention was whether the Waveny Park deed would even allow for such a building. Rogers said Town Attorney Ira Bloom is looking into that issue.
Although the meeting represented progress in the process of tapping into the pipeline, it could be awhile before New Canaanites are heating their homes with cheap natural gas. First schools and other major buildings close to Waveny would be connected, then a line would be built running the gas up South Avenue to town, and only after that could Yankee Gas begin running pipes to residents' homes.
"I would say it takes at least about two years before all t's and i's are dotted and crossed," Mallozzi said.
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