Río Grande Gorge pipeline pushed past deadline

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This story was updated Nov. 9.

Construction on a new gas pipeline in the Río Grande Gorge was on track to be done by the end of the month until some rocks got in the way.

The re-alignment of Taos' main supply line of natural gas was scheduled to be completed by Nov. 30, when temperatures are generally too cold to do construction. However, the project will push past that deadline and potentially the beginning of the new year, according to Tim Korte, spokesperson for New Mexico Gas Company.

Technical challenges presented by rock underneath State Road 68 - as well as issues with storing dirt and coordinating its delivery - have drawn out construction, he told The Taos News Oct. 30.

"We knew this was going to be a complex project, but it turned out to be even more complex than we anticipated," said Korte.

"The pipeline goes 3 to 5 feet under the road [in some areas]. Basically, we were expecting a lot of "road bed" - graded and compacted soil. For the most part that's what it has been, but there's also some sections of granite," said Korte.

A different cutter had to be brought to the project site, he said, which contributed to the delays.

Furthermore, maneuvering construction equipment and dump trucks in the area where dirt from the project is temporarily stored has proved more difficult than imagined. "The trick is getting our trucks in and out of there. With traffic lined up, it's sometimes difficult to do that," Korte said.

Traffic has been slow on the State Road 68 - the highway in the Río Grande Gorge - since construction of six miles of new, in-ground pipeline began in August. With the blessing of the state highway department, the gas company closed one-lane of the two-lane highway, the principal route into Taos from the South.

Pilar resident Diane Gledhill told The Taos News she's adjusted to the delays since August and isn't bothered by the extension in construction.

"I can't imagine them working any harder or faster. These guys do 12-hours shifts and they are real sweethearts. People should think about waving, grinning or dropping off a cup of coffee every now and again," Gledhill said.

According to Korte, crews will work through Nov. 22, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and resume construction the following Monday. Road closures will remain in effect.

Crews will work throughout the following month until Dec. 21. "Whether the project is completed or not, we will have the barriers removed and the road fully reopened by Noon on Friday, Dec. 22. We will leave the road open through Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018," Korte said.

If the project is not completed, the concrete barriers will be re-installed and the rest of the work will be completed after Jan. 3.

The Bureau of Land Management greenlighted the pipeline construction earlier this year by granting the gas company a right-of-way permit. The agency will not be fining the gas company because of the delays. "Typically the fines are levied between the [company] and the contractor," said the BLM's Taos Field Office manager Sarah Schlanger.

The $14 million project was awarded to Crossfire, LLC. of Durango, Colorado. Subcontractors are New Mexico companies but the details of the contract are not public.

Korte said the company doesn't expect a "significant increase in the cost because of the delay." When asked if the company would be fining the contractor for the delay, he said, "We are considering what if any action to take in response to the delay and we have made no final decision. We are focusing on completing the project at this time."

"We would rather not return later [than New Year's] to complete the asphalt work," Korte said of the work to repair the road, which is one of the finishing touches of the pipeline project. "We feel we have been successful at minimizing the impact [to existing asphalt]. That effort will continue as we move south during the colder weather."

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