Firmus Energy Information Evening – What we now know?

Ballymoney has in recent weeks experienced what some have described as ‘Severe’ disruptions to the town and local businesses with the upgrade to the electricity network around the town mainly concentrated to High Street and Main Street.

No sooner has one utility company’s (NIE) work around the town coming to an end but another have started their work. Firmus Energy are starting the process of creating a new network of natural gas pipes along with their contractor McNicholas Construction in Ballymoney Town Centre.

logo-firmus-energy

On Thursday evening (20th July), representatives from Firmus Energy and McNicholas Construction held an information evening to detail their scheme and timeline of work to the public, both residents and businesses. They invited the public to attend and encouraged them to ask questions and voice any concerns they had regards the upcoming work so to better understand the importance and benefits of it.

Part of the process will require several periods of partial lane closures and full road closures as detailed below.

  • 17 July 2017 – Victoria Street, Ballymoney lane closure with rolling traffic lights for a period of three weeks, both High Street & Townhead Street will be open as usual.
  • 07 August 2017 – Linenhall Street, Ballymoney, lane closure at pinch point with Main Street for a period of two weeks.
  • 21 August 2017 – Charlotte Street, Ballymoney, road closure and diversions in place for a period of three weeks.
  • 11 September 2017 – Church Street, Ballymoney, road closure and diversions in place for a period of two weeks.
  • 25 September 2017 – Main Street, out of hours works with possible road closure for a period of three weeks.
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Plans showing the work within the town centre to create the new Firmus gas network.

FUSE FM spoke to some of the local business who voiced concern prior to the information evening that more disruption like the pervious weeks, which had affected  business, would cause further loss in business over an extended time frame. One business owner on Church street asked why the road had to be closed through the day rather than the evening like Main Street will.

Firmus energy have prior to work done assessments on the best options for each street when laying pipes. The full road closure of Church street will cause less traffic disruption than Main street, so where Church Streets work can be done in the daytime as the footpaths aren’t affected, Main Street will have the majority of its works done during the night as traffic disruptions would be severe during the day. Church Street also will only loss 15 parking bays for a period of around two weeks.

Another major concern was that the town will yet again be facing huge open pits that have posed a safety risk during the utility installation of NIE’s upgrades to the electric network. Firmus has assures that this will not be the case due to how they install pipes that after work is complete for the day all areas they have worked on will be left safe and or restored to normal. Firmus plan to use a process which see’s rods drilled under the road without the need to cut huge pits into the ground over a large distance, instead only creating a feeder pit to feed the pipe into the ground in the first place. This is evident at present on High street and as of this information evening a large portion of pipe has been layed already without digging up the road.

unfortunately this is not always a suitable method and Church Street and Main Street are examples of this as other utility’s criss cross back and forth the street making it impossible and dangerous to bore pipes directly down both, meaning the only option is to open up the road. This will according to Firmus be done as to cause minimal disruption.

During the information evening FUSE FM Ballymoney spoke to North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey about the new gas network in the town.

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Mervyn Storey MLA

Its something the town has been looking to for some time to ensure Ballymoney has access to different energy providers. Businesses on Main street have been asking for gas for several years but haven’t had access. Now the new supply will give these businesses the choice.

This is what Mr Storey had to say about the new gas network. When asked about the concerns of some of the local businesses about reduction in trade Mr Storey continued;

I understand and appreciate their concerns and with work being carried out during the day it will have an adverse effect on their business. Parking will be taken away (on Church Street) and we know how much the public like to park near to where they shop. Traffic NI have said the road closure is the only way this work can be done. Obviously we are going to have a word with Transport NI about an alternative solution or encourage the work to be carried out at night like the similar work that will take place on Main Street.

Mr Storey finished by praiseing the work that Firmus had carried out prior to commencing the work including the consultation and information evening that had been arranged. He did however say;

That was not the case when it came to the current work that was being carried out by NIE and that their were and are issues including the way the contract was being carried out, issues that would have to be taken up with NIE but those two things (NIE & Firmus) have to be kept separate and one should not be a reflection on the other.

SO WHY CAN’T UTILITY’S WORK TOGETHER?

A question which has left locals baffled. Tonights information evening went some what way to explaining why it’s just not that simple. There is logistic, liability and safety issues involved. Firstly the utility’s don’t necessary run side by side and separate work would on most occasions need to be carried out either way. Where work could be carried out at the same time decisions would have to be made who does what or more importantly who can do what including the use of what and who’s plant equipment. Who takes responsibility for the work and if something where to go wrong, who is liable. The final and most import thing is always safety. As is very apparent electricity and gas do not mix well together, and even tho both are installed not live or inactive there is always the potential for an accident. Both electric equipment and gas pipes have their safety parameters and must be laid with minimal distances to other utility’s. By installing separately you greatly minimize the risk.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT NOW?

What was very apparent from the information evening is that Firmus Energy and their construction firm have really done their due diligence and that they are not out to just arrive and get the job done, but rather want to and have listened to residents and businesses to put their minds at rest. They want to cause as minimal an impact to the town as possible and have taken every decision in what they feel firstly is in the best interest of the town. These decisions have not been based on whats quick and easy but rather what works best all round, a stark contrast from the lack of meaningful contact that NIE has had. It may not suit everybody within the work area but the majority should be pleased with their work both during and after.

An official statement was unavailable at the time of the information evening but will be forwarded in due course to FUSE FM Ballymoney, but a representative on the evening did say both Firmus and their construction firm McNicholas will be keeping in close contact with the locals and businesses affected during the course of the work and will be available to answer any questions and concerns.

Should you have any questions or concerns on the upcoming construction works, please contact the firmus energy customer careline on 0800 032 4567.

 

Article: Jonnie Crawford

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Categories: COMMUNITY ISSUES, NEWS

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