East Medford residents can expect the ubiquitous grinding noises, vibrations and traffic delays associated with Avista Utilities' $5 million natural gas pipeline upgrades well into 2016.
"The challenge with projects like this is you don't know rock conditions until you get there," said Avista Utilities spokesman Steve Vincent. "We were estimating the end of December before we started running into some awfully solid rock, but we should be all done by the end of February."
Avista is laying a 10-inch pipeline from White City to North Phoenix Road in Medford, providing backbone distribution lines on both sides of Medford for the first time.
"This is like building a freeway for a utility," Vincent said. "The last time we had a project of this magnitude was 50 years ago, and 50-year projects are not going to happen unnoticed."
Brotherton Pipeline of Gold Hill began boring beneath Springbrook Road Aug. 3, starting near Delta Waters Road, pushing south to Spring Street then snaking along Pierce Road to Hillcrest Road. Crews are inserting 10-inch pipes as much as 50 feet beneath the surface as they put the final vertebrae of its eastside backbone together.
The cluster of equipment encamped at the corner of Hillcrest and Pierce roads, near Rogue Valley Country Club, should begin disappearing later this week, Vincent said. "Because of the rock, the work at Pierce and Spring will be stretched out longer."
While the gas lines have changed driving habits throughout east Medford, some residents are learning to live with noise and vibrations usually associated with mining operations but not urban neighborhoods.
"Eight hours a day, six days a week, my house is shaking," said Sue Kupillas, who lives across the street from the work on Pierce Road. "My pictures were moving on the wall, and it was unscrewing light bulbs."
The former Jackson County commissioner said Avista and Brotherton Pipeline representatives were cooperative and have modified shaker operations, separating rock from slurry, when her car is parked in the driveway.
"The good news with all that rock is that I've discovered my home is on solid ground," Kupillas said. "For a while, I couldn't work in the backyard, but I think we're pretty much through that phase."
The decibel levels are a problem for Jereme Dittmer, who lives on the corner of Spring Street and Pierce Road.
"At times we get a vibration, but our main concern is the noise," Dittmer said. "It sounds like a diesel engine at 5,000 rpm."
Dittmer understands the importance of the project both for Avista customers and the safety of the area.
"They have a job to do," he said. "The lady holding the stop sign in front of my house has been super nice and always lets me out right away."
The noise, however, is an impediment for Dittmer, who operates a recording studio at his home.
"I record with open mikes and can't do that when they're working," Dittmer said. "I have clients recording in my office I would have to reschedule after six or on Sunday. Half of them do, which is an inconvenience, and the other half, I'm losing their business."
A half century ago, there were far fewer vehicles and subdivisions to navigate when putting in gas lines.
"Unfortunately, we're testing everyone's patience, and it's reaching a tipping point," Vincent said.
Natural gas was first piped into the Rogue Valley in 1963 when a pipe paralleled Interstate 5 from British Columbia. For some reason it ended south of Grants Pass. But Avista's local predecessor extended a line into the Bear Creek drainage.
"Back then the distribution backbone was in west Medford, because Medford was on the west side of the freeway," Vincent said.
Decades later, a pipe from the Klamath Basin brought gas over the Cascades to a point near 2Hawk Winery on North Phoenix Road.
In recent years, the gas line was extended north along North Phoenix Road. Another line from White City traced Crater Lake Highway to Delta Waters Road.
"If we simply built a trench, 3 feet deep, it would require all kinds of equipment and the jackhammers would irritate people," Vincent said. "The bore along Spring is 3,900 feet. If we had trenched and hit solid rock, the length of the project would be considerably longer."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.