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State Public Utilities Commission approves natural gas pipeline to cross under Soucook River

The state Public Utilities Commission has approved the construction of a natural gas pipeline that will pass underneath the Soucook River and fuel an asphalt plant in Pembroke.

The 4,400-foot pipeline will begin at Josiah Bartlett Road in Loudon, cross under the river and end at the Continental Paving plant on Ricker Road in Pembroke, near the Pembroke-Concord city line.

The commission approved the pipeline last week.

Randy Knepper, safety director for the utilities commission, had recommended the pipeline’s approval. He said the plan to drill the pipeline 15 feet underneath the Soucook, rather than just laying the pipe along the riverbed, will pose fewer risks to its waters. Leaks or damage to the pipe could pollute a river more easily if it rests along the bottom.

“There’s less environmental impact. . . . If you go underneath and you directionally drill, you’re avoiding all of that,” Knepper said.

Continental President Mark Charbonneau said construction should take about three weeks and will be completed this fall.

“We’re very pleased, but we also have to install it all, and there’s still a couple hurdles,” Charbonneau said.

Natural gas fuels the company’s two other plants, which are located in Londonderry and Litchfield. Continental will build the $300,000 pipeline and Liberty Utilities will maintain it.

In 2011, a Merrimack County Superior Court judge upheld the Pembroke zoning board’s decision to block Continental from building what would be the company’s fourth plant, planned for a parcel on North Pembroke Road. The board denied the new plant because the land in question was not zoned for manufacturing, but also because the plant would sit near a portion of the Soucook River that is a backup water supply for Concord.

But drilling the pipeline under the river and servicing the Ricker Road plant is no danger to the city’s drinking water, Charbonneau said.

“There’s plenty of safeties today to store (natural gas) in a proper manner,” Charbonneau said.

The commission’s approval also notes that Liberty has promised it can operate the pipeline “without affecting or diminishing the rights of the public to use and enjoy the waters of the Soucook River.”

Charbonneau also said he hopes the pipeline would help the company’s chances before the Pembroke zoning board if he submits another proposal for a new asphalt plant. The natural gas line would ideally service an additional plant in the town, he said.

The agreement between Liberty and Continental also requires Liberty to build a new regulator station at Josiah Bartlett Road off the existing main. The utilities commission will monitor the pipeline as it is built and maintained underneath the Soucook.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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