SACO — Next week, Unitil will begin its expansion of natural gas in the city, a move some say will be an asset to the business community.

The city currently has limited natural gas service, said Alec O’Meara, a spokesman for Unitil. The natural gas provider will begin the first phase of a project that will be completed over three years, he said.

O’Meara said heating with natural gas is cheaper than heating with oil. Natural gas is also a cleaner energy source than oil, and is better on the environment.

The first stage will cover the downtown area from Elm Street to Pepperell Square north to Beach Street, and in the Industrial Park Road area. Work will continue through the summer, said O’Meara.

The completed project will include a broader area of downtown and continue service up Route One to Ocean Park Road.

Saco Public Works Director Patrick Fox said two-way traffic will continue on main roads during the construction, but turn lanes will be closed down, and traffic will be slowed.

Fox said city officials are in close contact with Unitil, and the city will post updates to commuters on its website and Facebook page.

Saco Economic Development Director William Mann said he is asked on a regular basis from businesses and developers if natural gas will become available to their areas.

“I think it will help Saco attract and retain businesses,” he said.

Biddeford + Saco Chamber of Commerce + Industry Executive Director Craig Pendleton said Unitil will also be working with the chamber to get information out to the public to minimize traffic congestion and impact on businesses.

“For some companies thinking about expanding or relocating, not having natural gas is a non-starter/deal breaker,” said Pendleton. “If we want to attract more businesses, we must find ways to accommodate their needs.”

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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