BUCKSPORT, Maine — Local officials are taking the first step toward bringing natural gas to the built-up area of the town.

They have sent surveys to residents and businesses in the area to gauge their interest in using natural gas. According to Town Manager Roger Raymond, the responses from the surveys will indicate whether there is enough interest in using natural gas for Bangor Gas to move ahead in extending the existing gas line into the area.

The town approached Bangor Gas earlier this year about the possibility of making natural gas available. A spur from the main line in Orrington already runs to the Verso Paper mill in town. Raymond said the company is willing to work with the town but needs to know ahead of time how many potential users there will be.

“They’re willing to talk with us and would want our help on permitting and identifying routes,” Raymond said. “But that is all subject to there being interest. They would have to install a pressure reduction station to reduce pressure from the main line. They need to know there is enough interest to justify that investment.”

Bangor Gas has not indicated how much interest there needs to be for the company to move ahead with plans, Raymond said. Nor have they given the town any timeline for when the project would take place.

“When we first spoke, they told me they couldn’t do it in 2008, but they might be able to do it in 2009,” he said.

The project targets the town’s compact, or built-up, area, which might provide the critical mass of potential users to make the project feasible. Raymond said the area included in the survey mailing runs from the river to Broadway, and from the mill to the Orland town line. Raymond said they also have included the town’s industrial park in the survey area. The town office, the wastewater treatment plant and all of the town’s school buildings also are located within that area.

Raymond said the town would evaluate its energy needs to determine whether it would be beneficial to switch to natural gas.

The survey is simple, according to Raymond. It asks whether residents or business owners would use natural gas if it became available. If they answer yes, the survey asks for information about the size of the home, and whether residents would use natural gas for needs besides heating.

There seems to be a lot of interest among residents, Raymond said.

“I’ve received a number of phone calls from people who want to know when this letter is coming,” he said.

The surveys went out last week, and residents have been asked to return responses by the end of the month.