Dominion East Ohio plans to replace 4,100 miles, or 20 percent, of its 21,000-mile natural gas pipeline system in a 25-year project estimated to cost $2.6 billion.
Side streets, major thoroughfares and private property, mostly in older neighborhoods, will be affected, and many customers will experience temporary shutoffs that will require inspections of gas appliances before service can be restored.
The reason for all this work: The company is replacing steel pipe dating back 40 to 109 years with new steel and plastic.
The project already has begun on high-pressure lines in New Franklin and Barberton in southern Summit County and will begin soon in neighboring Green. Other high-pressure lines in Boston Township and Boston Heights also will be replaced. In those cases, 20-inch steel pipe is being replaced with new steel.
The first major residential work will begin today in a West Thornton Street neighborhood on Akron's near southwest side, bounded by the Innerbelt and West expressways.
That work will continue through most of this year, and then the company next year will move to the commercial area along East Market Street between South Arlington and the state Route 8 expressway.
''We realize a project of this magnitude will cause some inconveniences for our customers, and we apologize. We ask for their patience and understanding,'' said Dominion spokesman Jeff Zidonis.
The company expects that the $2.6 billion expenditure will result in total economic ac
tivity of $4.4 billion and that it will support as many as 3,000 jobs.
The West Thornton area will be the pilot neighborhood and was targeted first because of the large number of breaks and outages there, said Nancy Kovack, Dominion East Ohio manager of gas projects and pipeline infrastructure replacements.
Dominion has mailed several letters to Thornton Street-area residents and hosted a community meeting to explain the project.
''The whole goal is advanced notice,'' said Lori Yuan, senior communications specialist for the pipeline replacement program.
Crews will be working on sections of the neighborhood at a time, with yard restoration crews working in tandem to replace grass and concrete.
In those areas, the goal will be replacement of all steel lines with new, high-strength plastic.
The replacement includes main lines, typically buried under roads, and service lines, which connect between the main line and customer meters, Kovack said.
For customers, crews first will try to insert plastic tubing into the steel service lines as far as the meter to avoid disturbing private property, officials said. However, if they are unable to do so, Dominion has the right to dig trenches and under driveways to make a replacement, Kovack said.
''We're trying to inconvenience the customer only once. That's our goal,'' Kovack said.
Customers also will receive a new meter that allows the company to obtain readings remotely rather than sending a reader to record the dials.
When work begins on the service line, gas must be turned off, generally for a few hours. Customers do not need to be home during construction, but an adult must be present when a Dominion representative arrives to relight appliances.
Officials said they will have evening and weekend hours to accommodate occupants' schedules.
Workers will carry Dominion identification.
Risk of lost service
There is a risk that customers could lose service in the process. If a worker who is relighting equipment determines that an appliance or pipe in the building is unsafe, it is ''red-tagged'' and service can't be restored without repairs or replacement.
The cost of the 25-year project will be paid by customers through state-approved fees attached to monthly bills over more than 25 years.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved an application for the utility to charge up to $1.12 a month for the first year and up to an additional $1 per month in each of the next four years. That means the price in the second year could go to $2.12, and in the third year, to $3.12, and so on.
However, the actual amount that will appear on customer bills beginning in November is not yet known. In May, Dominion estimated in a filing to the commission that the fee for residential and small commercial customers might be 85 cents a month rather than $1.12, but that number could change based on the company's final filing and commission's review, said Vicki Friscic, director of regulatory pricing.
''By spreading it over the lives of the asset, although we're spending the capital money now, we'll spread the costs (to consumers) far beyond the 25-year program, if approved by the commission,'' Friscic said.
Further recovery from Dominion customers would be subject to commission approval after the first five years.
In May, customers began paying an additional 30 cents a month to install remote reading equipment on every residential and commercial meter by the end of 2011, reducing the need for employees who walk the streets to take individual readings.
The increase boosted the monthly service fee to $12.80.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at
330-996-3724 or blinfisher@