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Officials: Semco’s Marquette Connector Pipeline expected to be operational by end of November

From left, a post alerting individuals to the presence of the Semco Energy Gas Co. Marquette Connector gas pipeline and a sign indicating no motorized vehicles are allowed on the pipeline right-of-way are shown near the Noquemanon Trail Network’s South Trails Trailhead along M-553 in Marquette. Although much of the area is covered with snow, there is still a potential that the revegetation process could be disturbed by motorized vehicles and the public is asked to avoid using motorized vehicles on the pipeline right-of-way, Semco officials said. The 42-mile Marquette Connector Pipeline, which runs from Negaunee Township to Arnold, has been completed after months of construction and is expected to come online later this month, officials said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — After months of construction, Semco Energy Gas Co.’s 42-mile Marquette Connector Pipeline — which runs from Negaunee Township to Arnold — is expected to be operational by the end of this month, according to Semco officials.

“The pipeline is complete,” Semco spokesman Tim Lubbers said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Assuming all things go as planned — and it looks like they will — we will be gassing up that pipeline late in the month, just right after Thanksgiving.”

The project, which started in late spring, was pursued to add reliability, redundancy and capacity to the natural gas system in the area, Lubbers said, as it will connect the Northern Natural Gas Transmission system that currently serves the northwestern Upper Peninsula to the Great Lakes Gas Transmission pipeline, which runs across the southern U.P.

It’s important to provide this connection, because without the Marquette Connector Pipeline, a single failure in the Northern Natural Gas Pipeline — a pipeline that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and ends in Marquette County — could lead to long-term outages for many of Semco’s roughly 35,000 customers in the U.P., he said.

“Third-party damage or someone digging into or hitting our pipeline remains the single biggest risk we have,” Lubbers said. “If that were to occur on that (Northern Natural Gas) pipeline, we would — in most cases — be able to backfeed and maintain service to many, if not all, customers that might be affected by that. And from that standpoint, we believe this interconnection makes a significant increase in the reliability and redundancy for that area.”

The Marquette Connector Pipeline will also add capacity to the system, he said.

“The Northern Natural Gas pipeline was out of any additional firm capacity to meet future large natural gas needs,” Lubbers said. “And so the addition of this pipeline will allow this region to continue to grow and will be able to meet the growing energy demand in that area for the foreseeable future.”

The total final cost of the project is estimated to be around $159 million, Lubbers said.

The project is anticipated to recover costs through a rate increase for all of Semco’s 300,000 customers in Michigan, Lubbers said, noting Semco is currently pursuing a rate case with the Michigan Public Service Commission in regards to the pipeline, as well as other factors.

“We estimated that the impact of this pipeline would be about $3.99 per month for the average residential customers. Moving forward, the way Semco changes its rates is through a rate case — we have to file a rate case, which we did earlier in the year. And it looks like the total rate increase for an average residential customer would just be about $4,” Lubbers said. “Now, that’s not just this pipeline — Semco has not had a rate case or a rate increase in 10 years — and so it looks like the actual impact of this project will be a little less than $3.99 but we are in the final stages of the rate case, so we don’t have final approval of that.”

While the timeline for the rate increase is uncertain, as the rate case is still on-going, Lubbers said it could take place “as early as January” or later in the year and that customers will be notified, per requirements.

The 42-mile pipeline is in two segments and all of the pipe used in the project was domestically produced and domestically sourced, Lubbers said, noting it was also domestically coated to prevent corrosion.

The main section of the pipeline — which is a 20-inch diameter pipe — spans 36 miles from Negaunee Township to Arnold, primarily running in areas near County Road, M-553, M-35 and County Road 480. This portion connects the Northern Natural Gas Pipeline to the Great Lakes Pipeline in Negaunee Township. The other section is around 6 miles of 10-inch diameter pipe running from Negaunee Township directly into the Marquette area.

While construction of the pipeline itself is complete, the early snow and cold weather has impacted the project in “little ways” pertaining to fencing and grading around the Northern Natural Gas interconnection station and the Division Street regulation station, Lubbers said.

Temporary fencing will be placed at those sites in December, with permanent fencing and grading work to be completed in the spring due to the snow, he said, noting it’s “not necessarily unexpected.”

“We’ll need to get in there and smooth those sites out, clean the area up, get it to final grade and replant,” Lubbers said.

There is also mechanical, electrical and control work to be completed at the two sites, he said, noting that work is anticipated to continue into December.

And while many areas are covered in snow, Lubbers emphasized area residents should aim to limit traffic — particularly of motorized vehicles, such as ORVs — on the rights-of-way, as these areas were dug up for the pipeline, then covered and replanted during the fall, meaning “it’s important that people stay off those right-of-ways as much as possible to allow that vegetation to grow,” particularly on sloped areas and in areas with thin snow cover.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience, particularly with the construction activities that were going on. But if at all possible (we ask) if people can just limit their access, particularly on motorized vehicles, to the rights of way,” Lubbers said.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.