Construction is about to begin on the ATEX Express, an underground pipeline expected to employ as many as 4,000 workers during the next eight months.
About 1,500 of those high paying jobs will go to workers from local union offices, earning $27 to $50 an hour, plus daily per diem allowances and benefits. Working up to six 10-hour days, they also figure to earn overtime pay.
As they work their way across Ohio, the workers will be buying supplies and meals, and arranging for places to stay, pumping eagerly anticipated cash into the small towns along the way.
Starting around May 1, new pipe is to be laid underground across Ohio, as well as in sections of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana, according to Enterprise Pipeline, the Texas-based company building the ATEX Express.
"The actual installation of pipe is expected to begin next month, with initial activity taking place just south of Dayton," company spokesman Rick Rainey said in an April 19 email. "The number of jobs strictly involving construction of the pipeline will be approximately 1,500 in Ohio."
Workers anticipate project
The company has estimated 4,000 jobs will be created, the bulk during construction. In Ohio, Enterprise agreed to employ union workers, Rainey said.
In Ohio, the pipe is to cross 265 miles in Warren, Greene, Butler, Clinton, Jefferson, Harrison, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Muskingum, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway and Fayette counties. New pipeline also will be built in parts of Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But some officials question why fewer than half of the jobs are to be filled by Ohioans — even though the bulk of the new line will be built in the state and the company building it agreed to employ union workers in Ohio.
"Our biggest goal is getting local people on these jobs," said Fred Jones Jr., business manager for Laborers Local 1410 based in Dayton. "They're not really giving Ohioans a fair chance."
While some jobs will go to Ohioans, contractors overseeing stretches of the new 20-inch line — to be connected with existing pipe from Seymour, Ind., to Beaumont, Texas — also will bring in workers from other states for key positions, officials said.
"The company gets 50 percent of the work force. The rest are dispatched from the local halls," said Ray Hipsher, business agent for the laborers local based in Middletown.
Special skills learned in building underground pipelines, as well as experience with the contractor, justify the distribution, Hipsher said. The actual number of local hiring will depend on how busy the contractors are on other projects, he said.
"Don't get me wrong. We'd love to have all the jobs," Hipsher said. "Not just everyone has that kind of pipeline knowledge."
Union laborers, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers and pipe welders will handle the bulk of the work, also expected to employ others involved in other tasks including the support of the crews working between Seymour, Ind., and Washington County, Pa.
Laborers will be paid $27.09 an hour, plus $9 an hour for benefits and $45 a day per diem, Jones said. Workers filling the pipe-welding ing jobs will earn as much as $50 an hour plus benefits. Welders on the job get another $17 an hour for providing their own welding rigs. Crews will work up to six 10-hours days a week, translating into additional overtime pay, officials said.
The laborer jobs are being split between Ohio locals representing areas where work will be done, Jones said.
Locals based in Middletown and Columbus will place most of the laborers. Because a short stretch passes through Greene County, Jones said he placed one laborer during clearing work preceding construction and expected the same share of construction work.
Welders, journeymen and helpers on the job will come from Pipeliners Local 798, a welders' union based in Tulsa, Okla., but representing members in all 50 states, according to union officials. They bring experience on other pipelines, including those crossing Alaska, to the job.
The ATEX Express is expected to transport liquid petroleum products, including those to be recovered from shale formations in eastern Ohio, between Pennsylvania and Texas through "fracking" techniques questioned by some environmentalists.
Crews of about 600 workers are to get to work on the Ohio section, once the Ohio EPA certifies the project, expected to cross 648 water bodies and 228 wetlands.
"Discharges from activity, if approved, would result in degradation to, or lowering of the water quality of water bodies located along the pipeline route," according to the EPA.
In an April 12 letter, the EPA commented on Enterprise's plan, particularly construction of the section crossing The Wilds wildlife park, east of Columbus, as well as the company's plan for responses to an "inadvertent release, otherwise known as a frac-out" during construction.
The work is expected to take six to eight months.
"They're going to lay close to a mile a day," said Wade Pilgreen, financial secretary and treasurer for Local 798 in Tulsa.
After construction, fewer than 20 permanent jobs are anticipated in maintaining the line, monitored remotely with a system based in Texas.
Communities await project
The coming construction prompted anxiety and anticipation along the route, three years after crews constructed the Rockies Express Pipeline in the same area.
"There's been a real lack of public information this time," said Ed Teets, zoning administrator in Morgan Twp. in Butler County.
On the other hand, Teets said proprietors of Layhigh Estates, a trailer park outside Hamilton, were contacted about renting to workers on the stretch entering Ohio from Indiana.
The owners of local restaurants and stores hope crews will frequent their establishments as much as those installing the Rockies line.
Mike Baker is anticipating the construction as a property trustee and business owner.
Baker is trustee for 60 acres of farmland in Riley Twp. Stakes and flags mark the ATEX route.
"This is the third pipeline across that piece of ground," Baker said. "It looks like they're ready to go."
As owner of a hardware store, east of Hamilton, Baker looked forward to workers coming in for supplies and other needs as they worked their way through the area.
"When Rockies Express came through, it was a pretty good bump in business," Baker said.