COLUMBIA — Ashland's city officials hope the 11-mile natural gas pipeline being constructed along U.S. 63 will not only serve its existing residents but also draw more development to the burgeoning town.
In the early 1990s, Ashland was a rural farm town with a population that barely tipped 1,000. Twenty years later, its size has more than tripled, and its energy consumption has grown apace.
During a peak hour, Ashland pulls about 50 Mcf (thousand cubic feet) of natural gas from a pipeline that runs out of Jefferson City, but that line is nearing capacity, said Fred Luetkemeier, superintendent of gas engineering and planning for Ameren Missouri based out of Columbia.
The new pipeline should provide twice that capacity, he said.
“There are a lot of residential properties and commercial development along the highway right now,” Luetkemeier said, adding that Columbia Regional Airport has asked Ameren for access to natural gas in the past. “We’re preparing for more growth, and we’re open to serving both residential and commercial.”
"All of a sudden, Ashland is becoming less of an extension of Columbia or Jefferson City," said Josh Hawkins, Ashland's city administrator. "It's becoming its own market."
As Ashland grows, more opportunities are emerging for residents to work locally and fewer are commuting to work in other towns, Hawkins said.
“We’re going to get all of the businesses that grow next to the airport,” Hawkins said. “There are other (property) lots that are next to the airport that are privately owned, and we’re excited about the prospect of residential growth."
Hawkins said Ashland approved Central Concrete Company, based in Columbia, to build a plant along the U.S. 63 corridor. Construction of the plant has not yet been scheduled.
A residential development proposal to build 60 homes is scheduled to go in front of Ashland Department of Planning and Community Development in May for approval of construction, Hawkins said.
He expects the projects to move forward.
"We just keep building, and there are hardly any vacancies in the rental market," he said. He expects Ashland's population to reach 5,000 by 2020.
Most of the pipeline will be underground along the U.S. 63 corridor on easements of private property under contract by Ameren.
The pipeline will cross Gans, Turkey, Bass and Bonne Femme creeks, Luetkemeier said. In those areas, a directional pipeline-boring machine will re-route the pipeline six to eight feet beneath the creek bed.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has a blanket authorization for pipeline boring operations that doesn't require individual permits, said Brian Donahue, project manager of the Corp of Engineers Regulatory Branch based in Kansas City.
The six-month project is expected to be completed by mid-September. The pipeline will cost $11 million and will not disrupt traffic, Luetkemeier said. Funding comes through Ameren Missouri's construction budget.
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