OCEAN CITY — Crews from South Jersey Gas huddled around an open gas main Monday for a group photo to cap off a $103.5 million construction project intended to better protect shore-town gas customers during major weather events.
The project, called the Storm Hardening and Reliability Program, or SHARP, converted natural gas distribution mains from a low-pressure to a high-pressure system in several shore towns to prevent utility failures that many customers experienced during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“We had the low-pressure during Hurricane Sandy, and what happened was water and sand got into the system and discontinued service,” South Jersey Gas President Dave Robbins said. “We won’t have that anymore.”
The gas company replaced 92 miles of gas-distribution mains in Atlantic and Cape May counties since construction began in 2014. About 11,000 service lines that led to individual homes and businesses were also replaced.
The construction included the replacement of old cast-iron gas lines with new plastic polyethylene lines. Excess flow valves were installed on the new lines, which are designed to automatically shut off gas flow in the event of a line break.
The towns affected were Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, Longport, Ocean City, Wildwood, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Cape May and West Cape May, according to South Jersey Gas.
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The total cost of the project was $103.5 million and it was done in tandem with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Over 400 construction jobs were created to complete the work, officials said.
The project was part of a larger movement in New Jersey to improve resiliency during major storms.
Richard Mroz, the president of the BPU, said there has been about $2.4 billion spent across the state since Sandy to improve gas infrastructure.
Locally, many customers only lost service for a few days.
Joe Donnelly, a 20-year resident of Pacific Avenue in Wildwood Crest, said that while he did not experience any gas problems during Sandy, he’s glad the gas company replaced the aging steel pipes with new, more efficient ones.
He said, however, the construction projects were a nuisance in front of his home all spring.
“There were steamrollers parked in front of the house for weeks,” he said. “I’m all for repairing infrastructure, but there is a certain way of doing it.”
Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian said any construction work for the project was justified.
“The long-term benefits for our residents and property owners far outweigh the short-term inconveniences of the construction work,” he said.