Board of Trustees

Penn State approves costlier campus route for natural gas pipeline

Penn State has shown State College it’s a good neighbor.

The university will absorb the $9.6 million extra it will cost to run a natural gas pipeline through campus to a steam plant and avoid a shorter, but controversial, route through State College’s Highlands neighborhood. Columbia Gas will supply the fuel as the university plans to transition the West Campus steam plant, at the corner of Burrowes Road and West College Avenue, from coal to natural gas.

The university’s board of trustees approved the cost during a meeting Friday at the university’s Fayette branch campus.

A route through the heart of campus was never considered because of the large number of underground utilities. Instead, the original plan called for the pipeline to follow a route from Porter Road to Bellaire Avenue through the streets of the Highlands neighborhood. But residents, worried over the safety of having a pipeline in their neighborhood, railed against the proposed project and voiced their concerns to the Borough Council in April.

The council listened to the concerns and denied Columbia Gas a permit for the project. In response, the gas company sued.

A short time later, Penn State asked Columbia Gas to go back to the drawing board to find alternative routes that would avoid residential areas.

Officials from both the university and gas company proposed the longer, on-campus route, which would follow a path on the eastern and northern perimeters of campus before coming down through campus on Park Avenue near Shortlidge Road and winding to connect on Burrowes Road.

Penn State’s vice president for the physical plant, Ford Stryker, unveiled the cost of the alternative during the board of trustees’ meeting Thursday.

Trustee Mark Dambly didn’t react well to the price tag, calling the dispute “offensive” to Penn State.

But university President Rodney Erickson cautioned against ratcheting up the tension over the project. Erickson said the university had to be a “good neighbor” with State College.

State College officials were pleased with the decision.

“We recognize that this additional funding is significant and the borough appreciates the cooperation and willingness on the part of the university and the (b)oard of (t)rustees to consider alternatives in response to concerns raised by Borough Council and residents of the community,” borough Manager Tom Fountaine said.

The natural gas conversion at the steam plant is to comply with federal emissions regulations that will take effect in 2016, but the university needs to have a boiler in use by December 2014.

The increase for the cost of the on-campus route is attributed to several factors, the university has said. The new route is 1,000 feet longer and there are twice as many utility crossings and borings than the original route. The delay in the project will mean the university has less time to finish it, and will pay for premium work in the winter and overtime hours.