Following a unanimous vote by justices at the April 11 meeting of the Sharp County Quorum Court, the county will move forward with a new plan for a natural gas system.
After several weeks of meetings and attempts to identify the cost of the proposed natural gas system the county has been working on for nearly three years, a decision has been made to move forward with surveys.
Previously, sign ups were collected for the system, with an accompanying $100 deposit. The United States Department of Agriculture deemed the project not to be economically feasible due to low sign up numbers, but the county decided to explore options for scaling down the project, as a starting point. Sharp County Judge Larry Brown said he met with mayors of Evening Shade, Ash Flat, Highland, Hardy and Cherokee Village, along with Stewart Noland with Crist Engineering in Little Rock. Crist was the group which developed the initial plan for the gas system.
The board would be composed of representatives from the various areas covered and members would serve staggered five year terms, with one person going off the board each year. This is the customary manner in which facilities boards are governed.
Lynn Maxedon, a Cherokee Village City Council member, former engineer and strong advocate for the system, addressed the court explaining the findings from various recent meetings about the project.
He said, this time, they have attempted to look at the scaled down project from a customer's point of view.
The standard price for small customers will be lower and there will be no required sign up fee. "I think the potential here is, we are going to pick up users who before didn't see it as feasible, if the only gas appliance they had was a furnace," Maxedon said. He also explained natural gas is much lighter in weight than propane and is much safer. Because propane prices fluctuate with petroleum prices, the natural gas will also be much cheaper.
He also explained natural gas is a better choice because there are many potential ways to create it, including from garbage and grasses. He said, "We need it here for industry, they need low cost energy."
Judge Brown also indicated he would like to have natural gas in the county. Brown explained to the court the steps to implement the process, which would be solely funded from revenue bonds.
He said the water companies in the county and other officials will make sure the sign up sheets are distributed to the public.
Brown said, if the proforma created from these numbers doesn't seem feasible, the bonding company will not sell the bonds. They will only move forward if the project is feasible and can be paid for by incoming revenue.
The judge explained the average bill for small customers would be $47 monthly. He explained it will be a lot of work, but anyone interested should take the opportunity to sign the mailer, which is a binding, legal document. A signature indicates the customer's agreement to take the service for a seven year period, if it becomes available.
Justice Greg Prenger questioned the cost of conversions from propane to natural gas. McNulty Plumbing had a spokesperson address this question during the last attempt to get natural gas in the area. Although it is difficult to figure an exact cost of a conversion, the average was said to be between $500 to $600.
Maxedon suggested contacting a licensed plumber to get an estimate on the cost for the conversion.
Justice Everett McGuire asked whether the cost for drilling through rock for the system was estimated into the engineering cost, and he was assured it was.
The judge said the system is solely dependent upon the number of sign ups.
The cost was lowered by supplying a lesser number of customers on the potential system.
Justices then made a motion to move forward with the natural gas system and sign ups. The vote passed unanimously.
Residents should expect to see user agreements included in their water bills in the upcoming months.
Everyone who is interested in ever receiving natural gas should sign and return the legally binding document.
Other business included a briefing on the county's legislative audit for 2008-2009. Brown said there were no serious issues.
In addition, two resolutions and an ordinance were passed by the quorum court.
The first allowed the county to enter into a contract with Arkansas Economic Development Corporation for bridge work to be performed on the Wilson Well and Bear Creek Bridges in southern Sharp County.
The second ordinance allowed the judge to submit the grant and enter into an administrative agreement with White River Planning and Development District (WRPD), which will act as an agent for the county in administering the grant funds.
The final ordinance was to amend the county's 2010 budget to reflect charges for 2010 which came in 2011, after the 2010 budget was already approved.
The cleanup budget was approved by all members of the court.
The Sharp County Quorum Court meets the second Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the Sharp County Courthouse Courtroom. The public is always welcome to attend these public meetings.