Peoples Gas pipe replacement program is a necessary fix for an old, unsafe system

Opponents focused on cost, but our safety and economic vitality as a city rely upon completing the replacement without sacrificing safety or oversight.

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Peoples Gas crew work on installing a new 12-inch main on the 3200 block of W. Eastwood in Albany Park neighborhood, Chicago, June 18, 2019.

A Peoples Gas crew installing a new 12-inch gas main pipeline in Albany Park in 2019.

Victor Hilitski | Sun-Times

The Sun-Times’ Feb. 17 cover story on Chicago’s gas main replacement program failed to recognize the urgency of the plan and its support from regulatory agencies and an independent engineering expert.

Absent from the story was the plain fact that the critical condition of Chicago’s existing gas main system constitutes a safety emergency. The Illinois Commerce Commission ordered an independent engineering study of the system replacement plan in 2020, and one of its primary conclusions was alarming: More than 80% of gas mains in the City of Chicago have less than 15 years of reliable use remaining. The study went so far as to suggest that the timeline should be accelerated to complete the project 10 years sooner than originally suggested.

Any worker who has performed utility replacement in the City of Chicago will attest that you never know what you will find under city streets. Replacement crews still remove wooden gas mains installed before Abraham Lincoln was president. There are around 30 underground utility providers in the City of Chicago, and navigating a replacement program in close vicinity to other lines requires multiple layers of municipal oversight and severely slows the permitting process.

Further complicating the matter was previous administrations’ insistence that gas mains be replaced on the same schedule and map as other city infrastructure in order to minimize traffic disruption. Forcing a utility to perform the work of other utilities or additional work on city infrastructure makes it nearly impossible to maximize efficiency in cost or operations.

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But at the end of the day, opponents of the plan focused their criticism on cost, without providing context like the fact that the average Chicago gas customer’s bill is lower today than it was in 2013. The Illinois Commerce Commission regulates this and other utility replacement plans in extraordinary detail, overseeing everything from pass-through costs to operational mandates.

This is an enormous undertaking. Peoples Gas and its contractors are replacing a system dating back to the 1800’s with a modern, safe system that has already proven efficient in completed areas like Rogers Park. If we want to sacrifice safety enhancements like residential shutoff systems, we risk repeating the series of deadly gas explosions that rocked Boston in 2018. If we loosen regulation or short-sightedly shift our infrastructure toward electrification, we invite a fate like the one we’ve watched in Texas. If we are willing to reduce cost by cutting corners, we will be forced to weigh those savings against the lives we risk in the process.

Chicago’s natural gas mains should have been replaced decades ago, but our safety and economic vitality as a city rely upon staying the course and completing the replacement without sacrificing safety or oversight. Groups like PIRG may not want to tell the whole story, but Chicagoans need to hear it.

James M. Sweeney, president-business manager
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150

Wolf hunt a necessity

You need to get your facts straight before berating the hunters that are trying to manage an over-populated species. Have you ever watched a young fawn being taken down by wolves? Trust me, it’s far less pretty.

There is a need to thin the amount of wolves in Wisconsin, and to thin the amount of wolves Wisconsin hunters did in two days tells you the problem we have here. They could have done double that amount and we would still have too many.

Come face to face with a pack outside of your metro apartment, then let’s talk.

Richard Weiss. Wisconsin

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