- Bill Rautenstrauch

- The Observer

At long last, the Union County Airport Industrial Park is heating with natural gas.

A pipeline delivering the fuel to the Union County park is nearing completion, capping years of planning.

"This will help us serve the area better," said Don Kellogg, Avista Utilities' La Grande construction manager.

The pipeline, including 23,000 feet of high-pressure line and 18,000 feet of distribution line, starts at a tap near the Charles Reynolds Rest Area along Interstate 84.

The high-pressure line makes its way north along Pierce Road to a regulating station at Airport Lane. From there, the natural gas is distributed to industrial park customers.

The high-pressure line continues to a point near the airport's Fed-Ex building. It could be extended later, said Kris Ransom, Avista's manager for industrial markets in Oregon.

Ransom said that before the pipeline was built, there was only one regulating station serving the La Grande area.

Having a second one will in the future enable the company to provide better service to customers northeast of the city, especially in the Elgin area.

Pipeline construction got under way July 23 and is expected to be complete in about two weeks. Much of Pierce Road between Highway 30 and Interstate 84 was closed during construction. It is open now.

Brotherton Pipeline is the contractor. Avista Project Inspector Eric Berholf estimated between 20-30 workers have been employed on the $2.1 million project.

Natural gas was not included in the infrastructure when the industrial park opened in the early 1990s. Union County, however, had intentions of installing it from the beginning.

"We've always seen it as very important, another piece of infrastructure like electricity or running water," Union County General Services Officer Dennis Spray said. "It's been on the drawing boards for a long time."

Major manufacturers at the park include recreational vehicle maker Northwood Trailers and Baretto Manufacturing, a maker of rototillers. Those companies and others have been using propane to heat their buildings.

In all, the pipeline will provide natural gas for about 25 sites at the park, including the Union County airport terminal.

The bulk of the gas will be used for heating purposes, but some will be used for manufacturing purposes as well.

Natural gas should prove to be cheaper, said Spray.

"The cost of fuel of any kind is high these days, but characteristically natural gas is a little less than propane," Spray said.

Ransom said growth at the business park, plus a more favorable economic outlook for Avista, led to the decision to launch the project.

"We've been looking at it for several years, but for one reason or another we couldn't pencil it out financially," she said.

She said that Avista's financial situation has improved since the fuel shortages of the early 2000s.

Ransom said Spray was instrumental in helping Avista determine that the demand for the product was high enough to go ahead with the project.

"He did a very good job introducing us to customers and helping us find out what their needs are," she said.