Xcel pipeline project hits new problem
EAGLE-VAIL – Jeff Layman has seen a lot of construction projects in the 25 years he’s lived in Eagle-Vail, but the Eagle-Vail community manager has never seen construction work like this.”The roundabout projects in Avon and to Wal-Mart, the power lines – this has been the worst I’ve had to get through,” Layman said about Xcel Energy’s gas pipeline replacement project. That project, which is replacing the old six-inch natural gas line with a new 16-inch line, has fouled traffic in Eagle-Vail for much of the summer and fall.The latest problem with the project is that portions of about 2,000 feet of newly-installed gas line running just about the length of the Eagle-Vail business district were damaged during installation. According to an e-mail from Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz, an “anti-corrosive agent” – essentially rust-proofing – wasn’t properly applied where the sections of pipe were welded together before they were put into the bore hole. Despite that, Stutz wrote that the company expects to be finished with all its work in the right of way of U.S. Highway 6 & 24 by Nov. 23. A few days later, the company will run about 400,000 gallons of water through the line to check for leaks. The line will then be dried and filled with gas.Stutz wrote that less than 1 percent of the section was damaged, and it will run gas later this winter. “The issue, however, is whether we can operate the line, as is, over a longer period of time, or whether we will need to correct these deficiencies next spring,” Stutz wrote. “A decision has not yet been made with regard to this issue.”While Stutz’s e-mail downplayed the seriousness of the latest snag in the project, a string of e-mails between county and Eagle-Vail officials painted the problems in a harsher light, and indicated that the entire 2,000 feet of line might have to be replaced.No matter the severity of the damage to the line in Eagle-Vail, news that work might not be finished this year was just one more problem for a project that’s been plagued by problems. The project seemed to start well enough. County and utility company officials spent quite a bit of time to put together a plan for the project, and Ty Ryan of the county’s engineering department said the plan seemed sound.”It was a thorough application they presented,” Ryan said. “It seemed like all the pieces were there. But working in the built environment of the highway turned out to be more of a challenge than they expected.”The section through Eagle-Vail in particular has borne the brunt of the impacts, Ryan said, although crews are still working in Dowd Junction.Layman said his phone has been ringing since May with complaints from both residents and business owners, and with justification.”When you think about the fact we’ve had one lane of traffic at either end of Eagle-Vail all summer, it’s really been a downer,” Layman said. “And the people next to Shop n’ Hop had a drilling rig literally next to their windows for weeks when they were at the roundabout. … It’s just mind-boggling.”Deb Scully, co-owner of Scully’s Art, Office and Drafting Supplies, said her store’s business is down significantly this year, which is an even bigger worry since the two years before this one were particularly bad.Empty storefronts in the business district are surely a combination of an already-bad economy, she added.”If people do come down here, they don’t come back (because of the construction),” Scully said.Bill Britt, co-owner of Vail Discount Tires, said he feels fortunate that his main competition is the other tire shops in Eagle-Vail, all of which are in the same situation with the construction work. But Britt said he sympathizes with his neighbors.”I’m just tired of it,” he said.