July 13, 2020

Loring pipe could send information> Fiber-optics cable, natural gas among options

LIMESTONE — An underground pipeline that carried jet fuel for B-52s at the former Loring Air Force Base could be used to boost Aroostook County’s telecommunications capabilities, according to Air Force officials.

Among other options also being considered by environmental and reuse officials is using the pipeline to ferry natural gas to northern Maine and New Brunswick.

The 172-mile pipeline, which runs from Bangor to Loring, is one of the few pieces of the property left that the Air Force must dispose of in northern Maine.

According to Anthony F. Williams, an environmental engineer at Loring, the pipeline and the associated property easements could be used to string fiber-optic cable from Bangor to the Loring area.

“It can’t help but benefit the County,” Williams said, before giving a briefing on the pipeline to a local environmental cleanup advisory board Thursday night.

Other alternatives include using the 6-inch pipeline to transfer heating fuel or to run high-voltage electric lines throughout the conduit, according to Williams, who works for the Air Force Base Conversion Agency, the office responsible for readying Loring-associated property for use in the nonmilitary sector.

After fuel spills associated with the pipeline have been cleaned up, the Loring Development Authority of Maine has requested that the pipeline be turned over to the reuse agency, according to Brian Hamel, LDA president. The local request could be considered only after federal and state agencies have declined the property, according to federal law.

“We believe that that line has value,” Hamel said Thursday.

If fiber-optic cable were laid in the pipe, it would give County telecommunication users “redundancy,” Hamel said. The county now has only one major fiber line. In the event of a major storm and damaged power lines, the County would be without telecommunications until the line was repaired.

In addition, increased communications abilities can be marketed by Loring reuse officials and others in the County trying to lure business here.

Hamel said there have been discussions, including some with Canadian fuel company representatives, on using the pipeline for natural gas.

In a recently published report in New Brunswick, the provincial government is looking at the pipeline as a possible way to get Sable Island gas to the industrial area of Madawaska County in New Brunswick.

The pipeline’s terminus is 10 miles from the Maine-New Brunswick border.

But, it will be a few years before anything is done with the line that has been buried for more than 40 years. An estimated $350,000 is expected to be spent in cleaning up various fuel spills that have occurred over the decades, according to Williams.

The pipeline stretches from Searsport, through Bangor, to Loring. The 28-mile section between the coastal terminal and Bangor remains under the control of the federal government.

Now filled with pressurized nitrogen gas, the pipeline crosses 46 rivers and streams as it winds through eastern Maine and crosses the land of 741 property owners from Searsport to Loring.

The Base Conversion Agency has been studying the pipeline for any possible leaks and resulting ground contamination. Last summer sampling was done at the three pump stations in Argyle, Mattawamkeag and Littleton, points where the cleanup officials expected to find possible fuel leaks.

Some fuel contamination was found in Argyle and Littleton, Williams said. A more extensive fuel spill, dating back to the late 1950s or early 1960s, was found at the Mattawamkeag station. In addition, the Air Force has placed filters on two residential wells found to have detectable limits of fuel in the water, according to Williams.

The engineer said that it has not been determined whether the residential wells were contaminated by a spill from the pipeline or if the contamination came from another source.

This year, the cleanup agency plans to complete the sampling program and begin the cleanup effort in conjunction with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

A final property transfer may occur next year if the cleanup is completed, according to Williams.

In determining a proper reuse for the pipeline, the Air Force also may consider reverting the property easements back to the original owners, leaving the pipeline underground without any further action.

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