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In what should be a solid safety move, New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) will begin a five-year, $102.5 million project meant to harden its distribution and transmission system from damage caused by severe storms.

The state Board of Public Utilities last Wednesday approved the utility’s New Jersey Reinvestment in System Enhancements program, also called NJ RISE. The project, which is now in the pre-engineering phase, will consist of storm hardening and mitigation projects in the most vulnerable portions of NJNG’s service territory at the Jersey Shore.

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While the cost of the project should not affect this winter’s heating bills, the utility will ask in the fall of 2015 for permission to raise rates. Officials do not know the amount of the potential rate increase, a spokesman said.

NJNG has seen what can happen. Extensive damage from Sandy caused the utility to curtail service from Bay Head through Long Beach Island for weeks while they made repairs. A large section of gas main, usually buried 4 to 6 feet below the ground, ended up unearthed in Mantoloking. The storm also moved houses, which yanked out gas lines and caused leaks and fires.

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In less than eight weeks following Sandy, the utility repressurized or replaced 270 miles of main, installed one mile of 12-inch main, addressed 3,600 anomalies, rebuilt or replaced 51,000 meters, completed 121,000 service assessments and restored service to more than 30,000 customers.

“Superstorm Sandy caused an unprecedented amount of damage throughout New Jersey, especially in Monmouth and Ocean counties — the heart of our service territory,” said Laurence M. Downes, chairman and chief executive of New Jersey Natural Gas. “The storm hardening and mitigation investments approved under NJ RISE will minimize the impacts of extreme weather events on our customers and improve the resiliency of our system.”

NJ RISE consists of six targeted projects including:
• The installation of 1.5 miles of distribution main in Sea Bright as a secondary feed.
• Moving a regulator station, located in Mantoloking, off the barrier island and installing a new high pressure feed to Mantoloking. A regulator station manages the pressure on distribution mains.
• The installation of a secondary feed from Toms River to Seaside Park.
• The installation of six miles of distribution main as a secondary feed to Long Beach Island.
• The installation of a supplemental regulator station on Long Beach Island.
• The installation of approximately 35,000 excess-flow valves, which will cut off service to a home if there is a break in the line, in potential storm-affected areas.

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