Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Pipeline

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at symbios@condortales.com and I'll email you a copy.

Tuesday 21 April 1998 - (Still in Oregon) Sally talked to Becky last week, and again this morning. She says that pipeline workers have already moved their families into the area to be close to the work.

For a couple of years, we'd been hearing that there were plans to lay a natural gas pipeline across the Hill. There had been various controversies about the route to be taken, and nothing definite seemed to be in the works. It was a surprise to us to learn in April 1998 that it was a "done deal."

The pipeline was to follow the existing route of the powerline across the Hill that had existed for many years. With that right-of-way already in existence, it didn't seem like laying the gas line would be that significant of an operation. It might even be interesting to watch.

Of course, that reasoning didn't take into account that: (1) there had been extensive tree cutting on the Hill for the previous two years, and they weren't finished; (2) we just had a major ice storm that had left much of the remaining woodland severely damaged; (3) salvage cutting had already started to save whatever good wood was available from the damaged trees; and (4) we were having one of the wettest springs on record.

I'll let our journal tell how it really turned out.

* * *

Saturday 6 June 1998 - Yesterday’s drizzles and showers accumulated 0.01” ppt. Low 43.3F, high 50.8F; gray, dreary day, but at least the wind has stopped, so it was a little pleasanter than yesterday, both outdoors and in.

We were indoors all morning. I went down the hill 1400-1530 to pick up the mail and call the kids. I chatted for awhile at Cordwells and the Gun Club. The pipeline people were out in force, and on the way back up Dummer Hill, I was passed by about nine pickups going out - and there were still four parked at the powerline! They are currently clearing the actual right-of-way on the powerline where the pipe will lay. [Later in the day, we talked to a man who is clearing the pipeline path; he said he was working ten days ahead of the actual pipe laying. He says they lay about a mile of pipe a day - digging the trench, placing the pipe, and covering it up all at the same time. NOTE: we later found this wasn’t true - they can lay a mile a day, but only after the trench is dug, pipe welded, etc. Quite a difference!]

1830-1945 we walked out the Logging Road to the powerline, and back. The Logging Road has been cleared (probably yesterday, when we heard nearby chainsaws), and the pipeline people are hauling supplies and equipment up the Dummer Hill Road and around to the powerline crossing on the Logging Road via “our” pad. A big tractor-trailer rig came up the hill just ahead of me, with a load of wooden “landing mats” (later, we heard they call them “floats”), to help the pipeline machinery get over the wet places on the powerline.

Tuesday 9 June 1998 - Yesterday’s rain 0.11”. Overnight low 36.3F, high 72.5F. Lovely day: early fog, then blue skies, puffy clouds, breezy, only a few bugs. A slight electrical storm - apparently centered over the Mahoosucs - gave us some dark skies and a few distant rumbles after 1700.

I mowed in the field a couple hours, also split and piled some of next year’s firewood. 1830-2000 I walked out the Logging Road to the powerline, and back.

The pipeline people have been working long hours the past few days, clearing a path for the pipeline. It is as close to the north side of the powerline right-of-way as they can get. The A&B loggers are apparently still working up at the powerline on Dummer Hill; we heard the length cutter working on and off through the day.

Wednesday 10 June 1998 - Low 44.1F, high 77.4F. Sunny morning, but thunderheads were already building over the mountains by 1100 or so. We went through a few showers near Lancaster, but the hill only got one brief shower after 1800. Looks like the mountains south and east of us could have had some pretty good thunderstorms.

We were off the hill 1030 to 1730, shopping in Gorham and Lancaster. 1930-2030 we walked up Dummer Hill to the powerline, and back. The pipeline people have cleared a swath pretty much all the way over Dummer Hill and Bickford Hill, and have started to dig the actual trench by the road on Dummer Hill.

Monday 15 June 1998 - Rain ended in the early morning hours, 24-hour total was 0.84”. For the storm, Mt. Washington had 11.62”, and many communities in MA, southern NH, and ME had 6 to 12 inches. There are flood watches and warnings all over New England. Low 54.7F, high 70.3F. No rain during daylight hours, and even a few sun breaks.

I made a quick trip down for the mail because another couple inches of rain were predicted. With all the rain, the pipeline workers have churned up the stretch of road across the “new” pad, up the hill and across the powerline so that it is nearly impassable without 4-wheel drive. I put it in 4x4 and slipped and slid across without any real trouble, but I wouldn’t have wanted to risk stopping and starting in the mire too many times. I came back in the Logging Road, which was wet in the usual places but actually not too bad.

While I was gone, Sally put in a half-hour with the hoe draining some of the worst puddles on the “new” pad. In the afternoon, I sawed some firewood from a yellow birch that had fallen on the “lawn”, then took a brief walk out to the “new” pad and back.

Tuesday 16 June 1998 - Rain overnight 0.19”. Steady, heavy rain through the morning hours, an inch and one-quarter by 1300. Stayed gray after that, but not much more rain. There are flood warnings and watches all over ME, NH and MA. Low 56.1F, high 59.9F. Calm.

We were indoors until about 1830, when we walked out to the road and worked awhile draining our road and the “new” pad. There is more standing water than I’ve seen at any time except “the Wet Year” [1996]. Streams are running across the surface of our field, water is coming out of the bank in the low area of our road near Arthur’s Rock, and the creek at the foot of the hill is a mini-torrent.

The pipeline workers have ground the new pad and the hill up to the powerline into deep mush. I could probably make it in 4-wheel drive, but I think it would be “iffy”.

Monday 22 June 1998 - Overnight low 59.4F. Very foggy at daybreak, took awhile to clear off. Midmorning sunny but humid. Clouds building, brief shower mid-afternoon, then mostly cloudy into the night. High 83.3F.

After being gone almost a week through the rainy period, the pipeline workers are back today. They were obviously moving rock at times - loud dozer noises, and once they blasted. They gave 3 warning toots a minute or so before they blasted, 2 just as they were about to blow, and 1 for “all clear”. At the powerline on the logging road, they now have ten brand-new Cats - D7s and D8s - and there are also a bunch up at the powerline crossing on the Dummer Hill road. Lots of money in this operation!

They ran a lot of heavy equipment over “our” stretch of the Logging Road today - powerline to powerline. The road is relatively dry and smooth as a result, but they have crushed our one remaining culvert [on the hill between our pad and Cedar Brook], and have otherwise ruined the drainage.

Tuesday 23 June 1998 - A little more rain starting 2200, 0.07” for 14-hour total. Foggy early, then fairly clear, then high stratus moving in. Sticky, felt hotter than it was. Low 61.5F, high 81.1F.

I made a “quick” [relatively speaking] trip to West Milan to get the mail and call the kids - got Sara, but not Shawn. Went both ways on the Logging Road because it’s wider and has more places to pass all the pipeline traffic. I got in a convoy on the way out, with a flatbed trailer hauling a dozer, two big utility trucks, and a pickup. We all had to stop while a flatbed and pickup coming in got out of our way. Luckily, it was at the Cedar Brook fork, so there was enough room. On the way in, I passed four pickups going out. It used to be quiet on our hill!

The pipeline workers now have a “bed” smoothed over Bickford Hill, solid enough for pickups to drive. They did some more blasting today, but didn’t seem to give all the warning whistles - we didn’t hear them, anyway. They have bladed “our” part of the Logging Road again today - it is pretty smooth, but they haven’t allowed for any drainage, so the first heavy rain will undo a lot.

Tuesday 30 June 1998 - Ppt. from the 1900 rain last night was 0.04”. Later, we had quite a “light and sound show” that went on for a couple hours, but it was far to the north and east of us and we didn’t get any rain from it. We had two “low” temperatures today - it was 61.2F overnight, went up to a high of 72.9F, back down to 55.8F mid-afternoon in a pretty wild thunderstorm, then stabilized in the 60s through the late afternoon and evening.

The storm was impressive. The Maine weatherman had said that there was “a wall of water” moving north from PA, CT and MA. That’s what we got - over an inch of rain in less than a hour, at least three lightning strikes within a couple miles of us, and then lighter rain and more distant rumbling thunder for another hour or so. After that, gray skies but no more rain before dark.

I went out mid-morning to see what the pipeline people had done to the road. They had bladed it again this morning, plugged up all my drains, and had the water from the culvert running down the road all the way to Cedar Brook again. I worked about an hour and a half restoring drainage. After the rain, we went out again to assess the damage. Sally went down to the “new” pad, which had held up remarkably well [thanks to us!], except for all the slimy silt on top. I went down to the culvert, which is flattened to the point at which almost no water can go through the pipe, and so it had overflowed the bank next to the pipe inlet, and a sheet of water covered the entire road all the way down the hill and around the corner. I worked another hour or so diverting the water back along the edge of the pipe. Pretty successful, except (1) I made some nice holes along the pipe for people to bounce in and break springs, and (2) even one vehicle over the pipe will break down my barrier and start water flowing straight down the road, again.

It is really exasperating. There is absolutely no reason to flatten the road; in fact, it is harder for their vehicles when it is flattened because half the time it is a muddy mess. Also, it would take them about a half-hour probably to remove the culvert and replace it - or even just make a ford, like we did farther out the logging road. At the very least, one of their hundreds of employees could follow behind the dozer with a shovel and at least keep the drains open.

Tuesday 14 July 1998 - Low 58.8F, high 83.8F. Bright sun all day, some high stratus, and pretty humid. Still in the high 70s in the evening, but we walked, anyway, 1930-2050, up Dummer Hill to the powerline and back. Met Steve, the pipeline security man, and “Pennsylvania” (our obnoxious dozer operator) on the hill and chatted awhile. Pretty much all the equipment has moved to the other side of Bickford Hill now. Some of the workers have gone home because of the rain and the delays caused by the State environmental services folks over wetland damage. The gas pipe is now laying alongside the trench from down around Holt Road almost to the Dummer Hill Road. The watchman said they will be putting the pipe in the trench and welding it this week.

Wednesday 15 July 1998 - Low 62.2F, high 85.8F. Mostly sunny, but high stratus (and some cumulus) increasing, and pretty humid. Only 2-3 lightning bugs.Most of the local pipeline activity is now occurring over around the crossing with Rte 110A. Pipe has been laid beside the trench two-thirds of the way down to Cedar Brook. None has actually been put in the trench.

Friday 17 July 1998 - Last night’s electrical activity never got very close to us, but we had flashes and occasional rumbles all evening and on until 0100 this morning, first to the south [but neither Mt. Washington nor Pinkham had a storm], then north, then southwest. About 2130, an amazing wind came down the field, that we had heard for over a minute before there was any movement around the house. Then, for fifteen minutes or so, everything in the house blew around in intermittent gusts, then the wind just as immediately stopped. It was not associated with any particular local disturbance. Rain started about 2300 - again, not associated with any particular other weather event [although there was distant electrical activity] - and went on for a couple hours - 0.26” by morning. Foggy early, then burning off to soupy blue skies. Low 59.9F after the wind and rain. High temp. 81.9F.

We walked out to the “new” pad after breakfast. Sally did some puddle engineering, while I took pictures of the pipeline crew bringing pipe. They are now hauling the pipe around to the Logging Road [still coming up Dummer Hill], then moving them back along the line. They had enough pipe out to almost reach Cedar Brook while we were watching. They have a pipe-carrier that consists of two sets of balloon tires, each with a cradle to hold one end of the pipe, hooked together by a long “drive shaft”. This is hauled along parallel to the trench by a crawler tractor. A second crawler vehicle with a long adjustable arm is used to lift the pipes off the cradles and lay them in their approximate places beside the trench. Probably the same implement lowers them into the trench, but we haven’t witnessed that, yet. [Later note: no, I was wrong; the pipe lowering is an entirely different operation.]

While we were at the pad, Jack Guldenshuh [A&B Logging] came by, and we chatted for 15 minutes or so. We commiserated about the state of the road. He and Alan are waiting until the pipeline folks are finished to decide what to do about the road. Obviously, they are expecting the pipeline people to correct or pay to correct the damage. Jack said that Mead had sold a right-of-way to Price [the pipeline contractors] for use of their road, so presumably they have paid up front for damages and Mead will do whatever gets done to rehabilitate. Jack and Alan didn’t make an upfront deal. [I assume that Mead just sold a one-time right of way, for the life of the installation operation, but Jack didn’t say so.] He said that the pipe is now in the ditch and welded from Holt Road up to the spring on the powerline near “Billy’s” corner.

Sunday 19 July 1998 - Low 50.7F, high 79.7F. Lovely blue sky day, puffy clouds, fairly dry air, few bugs. I was awake early, so I bird-watched down the Logging Road to the Cedar Brook crossing, and back again. Not a lot of activity, but did see a male mourning warbler [probably a female, too, but identification not certain] right at our pad. I think this is the first I’ve seen since the early days of the logging road, when for a few years there were several pairs between the “moose crossing” and Cedar Brook.

After breakfast, I went back out to the low spot on our road, and dug two more drainage ditches. Because of all the work we’ve done through the years, the road is pretty good, but in a wet year like this one, getting the water off the road as quickly as possible is highly desirable.

Steve, the pipeline company night watchman, told us that they had an incident at the powerline either last night or Friday night. He had surprised a young man at one of the “cats”. The man tried to run away, but he fell into the trench and Steve caught him. It turned out that three men - apparently drunk - had driven their truck down the pipeline path from Dummer Hill toward Cedar Brook. They got stuck, and the one Steve initially caught had come up to try and start the dozer, to go down and un-stick them. The pipeline company made the men leave their truck where it was overnight, but we’re not clear about whether the company as going to prosecute, or not.

Steve gave us a quick lesson in pipeline construction. Four welders work on every seam, and the entire pipe [up to a mile or so of it!] is welded above ground, then all laid in the ground at one time. All the bends and angles are put in before welding. Right now, the whole project is pretty much on hold. For some reason [we didn’t get what it was], Canada has shut them down completely after only a mile or so. New Hampshire won’t let them bore under roadways for the time being. They plan to complete a mile or so of pipeline from Holt Road to Dummer Hill, and rehab that stretch, then NH Dept. of Environmental Quality [probably not their exact name] will inspect the project. What happens after that will depend on what NH decides about the quality and safety of the work.

We had heard that “a lot” of workers had left the project to go to another job in Colorado. According to Steve, only five or six have gone, so far.

Wednesday 22 July 1998 - Low 64.6F, high 84.7F. Overcast morning, then clearing to sunny, blue sky most of the day. Strong, gusty winds in mid-afternoon. It was supposed to be much hotter and more humid [and it was, apparently, not too far south of us]. All in all, not too bad a summer day, although not one that inspired too much moving around.

We were indoor almost all day. We took a walk out to our pad and back in the morning, then 1800-1845 I walked up Dummer Hill to Faulkenham’s fork, and back. Lots of traffic all day - it appears like the pipeline folks are using every dry hour they can, now. The pipe is welded at least as far east as Cedar Brook - couldn’t get a look at the last section up to the Logging Road.

Friday 24 July 1998 - At 2115 last night, a VERY fast moving thunderstorm came through - very strong winds, rain, lighting [none very close]. It was all over in less than fifteen minutes, and the stars were out later. Yesterday’s total rainfall was 0.68”. Overnight low 54.7F, high 70.2F. Very clear, dry air behind the front - lovely blue sky day - no bugs.

Sally drained puddles on the Logging Road and the “new” pad in the morning, while I split wood and dragged branches off the field. In the afternoon, I mowed with the DR for a couple hours. 1800-1945 we walked up to Faulkenhams, back over to the powerline, and home. The pipe is covered on the Holt Road side of the hill, now, and the pipe is welded together from Dummer Hill to Bickford Hill, except at the logging road crossing.

Friday 7 August 1998 - Low 62.1F, high 72.3F. Only a trace of rain in last night’s showers. Overcast all day, humid, a sun break or two was all.

I split wood for an hour or so, and Sally gathered birch bark for kindling. I put a new toilet seat in the outhouse. Otherwise, we read, ate, cross-worded, and napped until 1830-2000, when we walked up Dummer Hill to the powerline and back. Nice breeze at the powerline, so we sat for a half-hour or so, watching the clouds swirl around the Percy Peaks.

There were some working noises on the powerline this morning, but the place was virtually deserted this evening. There are only two crawler tractors left in the vicinity, one on the powerline on Dummer Hill and the other on the pipeline near the logging road. There is still a little “junk” around [pieces of pipe, gravel, etc.], but they have done quite a bit of cleanup. The road isn’t what we call “fixed”, but they have smoothed it out, and bladed a lot of the places where they were parking equipment. Are they finished?

* * *

Well, it wasn't quite over. There were several more weeks of road grading and other clean-up work. As the next months would show, life on the Hill was not back to "normal" - whatever that was, or was going to be. One of our journal entries from early July, mid-way through the pipeline episode, gives an idea of how we felt at the time.

We seem to have one military jet that flies fairly low over us once a day, or so. One day it was at very low level; usually it is mid-elevation, but very fast and very loud. Add to this the almost constant [from before 0900 to 1900, and sometimes later] “beep beep beep” of heavy equipment, and occasional explosive blasts as they remove rocks from the pipeline trench, and it isn’t our usual “wilderness experience” here. It isn’t horrible, but usually the background noise in Oregon when we get back in the fall can seem almost overwhelming, it is usually so quiet here. We probably won’t feel such a contrast this year.


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