Officials with Rockies Express Pipeline are ready to proceed with construction on the project, but work could be delayed due to concerns over the role of local union workers.

The $5 billion, 1,679-mile natural gas pipeline would run through parts of Christian, Macon, Moultrie and Douglas counties in Illinois on its way from the Rocky Mountains east to Ohio. However, it is opposition in Macon County that is threatening to delay the start of construction within the county.

Equipment and more than 1,000 workers are ready to be deployed over the next several weeks to the areas where the pipeline will be built, Rockies Express spokesman Allen Fore said Friday. Construction already has begun in some areas and will continue at an accelerated pace, Fore said.

"It's an exciting time to begin the building phase of the project," Fore said.

A local union has raised concerns over not being able to bid on work for part of the project. A spokesman for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146 said the union wasn't given a chance to bid for work on a $35 million compressor station near Blue Mound in Christian County.

"It's not a lemonade stand on the corner," said Shad Etchason, the union's assistant business manager. "This is a major project. If it's competitively bid and we don't get the work, then of course we have nothing to gripe about. We'd just like a chance to bid the work."

During a meeting July 10, the Macon County Board voted to table a proposal that would have approved a plan for the pipeline to be built under county highways. Members of the board were concerned local workers weren't getting a chance to work on the project, said Board Chairman Bob Sampson, D-Decatur.

Sampson said he remains optimistic the concerns can be worked out with Rockies officials.

"We want Rockies Express officials and the public to know that this thing is being sold as all local people, and it's not," Etchason said.

Fore said if a deal isn't reached, work in Macon County likely would not begin, leaving the workers ready to start on the project sitting idle. The workers in question at the Blue Mound station represent a fraction of the 600 union jobs being created in Macon County, Fore said.

"That means you've got union workers who have no work because of the action of the county board," Fore said. "There are a lot of working men ready to go to work right now that aren't going to be able to go to work because of the action of that county board. We're ready to go to work in Macon County."

Fore said the union's objections concern only about 10 potential jobs at the Blue Mound facility.

Work needs to begin for the project to stay on schedule, Fore said. Construction is expected to take two to three months, with work to restore the land that is dug up taking longer than that.

The goal is to have gas flowing through the portion of the pipeline by the end of the year, Fore said.

Workers are expected to be mobilized to contractor yards in Tuscola and Taylorville as work begins in those areas, Fore said. Residents should expect to see pipes and other equipment being moved to the pipeline's path from a storage yard in Illiopolis.

The project's contractor yard on Southside Drive in Decatur also is expected to begin to fill up with activity once work can begin on the nearby portions of the project, Fore said.

Copyright (c) 2008, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.