Dominion Energy still hard at work installing gas line in Devola

Photo by Michael Kelly A backhoe operator waits as a 40-foot length of 6-inch pipe is pulled into the ground next to Chamberlain Drive in Devola on Thursday. Dominion Energy Ohio is replacing old gas line in the community.

DEVOLA — It’s slow, methodical work laying new gas pipe. On a rainy Thursday afternoon, a seven-person crew and heavy equipment was strung out along half a block at the west end of Chamberlain Drive in Devola as one man operating a horizontal boring machine drilled a hole along the shoulder of the street, about two feet below the surface and big enough for an average size opossum to squeeze through, while another at the far end watched yellow six-inch pipe being fed inch by inch into the cavity.

Dominion Energy engineering technician Eric Hayes, the company inspector overseeing the job, watched as the gradual process put new plastic pipe in the ground to replace the area’s old steel distribution pipe. Dominion, he said, has been replacing the old network for about 10 years across Ohio, and still has decades to go.

“We average 10,000 to 15,000 feet a year in Washington and Monroe counties,” he said. “There are parts of Marietta and Belpre that have pre-1950s pipe.”

Dominion crews have done a considerable amount of work in Marietta and still have a long way to go, he said.

“We’ve done pretty much all of Front Street, Fifth and Seventh. There’s some weird stuff left in the middle, and we’ll probably be 10 more years. They give us about three or four projects a year,” he said. “There’s a lot of places where you hit clamp after clamp after clamp, where they’ve been patching it for 40 years.”

Photo by Michael Kelly A contractor crew member operates a horizontal boring machine, drilling a pathway for new 6-inch plastic natural gas pipe for Dominion Energy Ohio on Chamberlain Drive in Devola on Thursday.

The project includes the main gas distribution lines at street level and lines into individual residences, he said, “at no cost to the customer.” The company works with customers to make sure they’re notified of gas service interruptions, which are generally three to four hours in duration but never, he said, overnight “unless something really weird happens.”

When temperatures are low, he said, the company contacts the property owner to make sure someone is in the home or building when the work is taking place. Dominion Energy Customer Service is supposed to contact the customers being affected, he said, but the crew makes personal contact with each household or business on the line before starting work, including phone calls, knocking on doors and if necessary checking with neighbors. That can be problematic in areas of Marietta, for example, with a large number of rental properties.

“Unless we make direct contact with every one of them, we don’t do anything,” he said. “I’ve held up jobs before if there’s even one landowner we couldn’t contact.”

When the crew is finished on Chamberlain, he said, they will move on to Starlight Drive in Reno, the location of a large mobile home park. He said Miller Avenue in Marietta is also scheduled for work soon.

Mark Ervin, supervisor of gas contractor management for Dominion, said the replacement schedule is largely driven by the age of the existing lines and the material they are made of. The older lines made of raw steel are replaced first, although schedules can be changed if the company notices a problem that needs to be fixed.

Photo by Michael Kelly Piled dirt surrounds a well where a new gas line will be installed on Chamberlain Drive in Devola. A crew has been working for a few weeks on the project, which should be finished by mid-month.

“There are a lot of factors that go into it,” he said.

In addition to notifying property owners and residents, Ervin said, the crews go in ahead of time to run a camera through the sewage systems.

“They get the age and depth, and see whether there are any major blockage,” he said. The company sometimes comes across unmapped sewer lines.

“In an area as old as Marietta, with the age of some of this stuff, it’s difficult to maintain records,” he said.

Gas lines run in approximately the same corridor as the other utilities, usually around three feet in depth, he said, with water lines usually at four feet to keep them below the frost line.

The Starlight Drive and Miller Avenue projects are due to start within the next few weeks, he said.