BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
In a symbolic ceremony last Thursday afternoon, Gov. Sean Parnell wielded a shiny silver crescent wrench and turned the valve of South Peninsula Hospital’s natural gas meter. Because the Anchor Point-Homer Trunk Line has not yet been completed and gas has not yet started going on the city of Homer extension up Bartlett Street to the hospital, no actual gas flowed into the hospital — although enthusiastic onlookers provided the appropriate sound effects by hissing as Parnell turned the wrench.
Parnell attended the ceremony before he went to Karen Hornaday Park to serve food at the Governor’s Family Picnic.
The hospital is the first public facility in Homer to be fully plumbed and ready to receive gas, and the event was held to honor that achievement and the flow of gas later this summer or early fall.
“This is the day we’ve all looked forward to,” said SPH board of directors president Julie Woodworth.
Noting that when a hospital can save $200,000 a year — the potential savings in energy costs — hospital chief executive officer Robert Letson said “That’s a good day for any hospital CEO.”
Letson said the hospital will keep fuel oil tanks supplied and ready to go as a back-up if natural gas supplies should be disrupted.
Longtime Homer resident and Mayor Beth Wythe said, “In my lifetime we’ve been saying ‘We’re going to have natural gas,’ and today it happens.”
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, called natural gas coming to Homer the fulfillment of a 30-year dream.
“It’s an exciting day to be here,” he said.
Parnell praised Homer not only for getting natural gas, but for creating a model to bring gas to communities. Initially, Parnell vetoed most of a legislative grant to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Fork gas fields to Homer. He did approve a small pipeline and construction of a pressure-reducing station.
When a plan was put forth for Homer to help fund construction of the pipeline through a $1 per million-cubic-foot tariff, Parnell supported a $8.15 million grant to build the pipeline from Anchor Point to Homer — a precedent for other communities to follow.
“You have made it possible not just for yourself, but other cities in Alaska,” Parnell said. “It’s a great day for Homer and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
The first 17 miles of the Anchor Point-Homer Trunk Lineare is almost completed, with gas expected to be flowing by mid-August after testing and purging is done, said Enstar Natural Gas regional manager Charlie Pierce. The Homer city gas extension will be tied in to the trunk line once it’s done. About 850 gas service lines and 1,000 meters have been applied for in Homer and Kachemak City.