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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Sharp County residents encouraged to sign up for natural gas

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A crowd of interested Sharp County residents gathered Aug. 21, at the A.L. Hutson Memorial Center to discuss the proposed natural gas system that could soon become a reality. The group voiced concerns and opinions, and was given an opportunity to ask questions to a panel which included Mayors from Cherokee Village, Hardy, Highland and Sidney, as well as Sharp County Judge Larry Brown, Alderman Lynn Maxedon, Bob Wright with Crews and Associates, the company that will help with financing for the project. Also on the panel was Stewart Noland with Crist Engineers, the engineering firm which will detail the project, and local plumber Steve McNulty.

Brown opened the meeting, explaining the long process the county has gone through seeking gas lines for residents of the county. Five years ago, the county was awarded a grant for natural gas. Weather disasters, such as the 2008 tornado, floods and the ice storm put the natural gas system on a back burner during the recovery efforts.

After being deemed to not be financially feasible by the USDA last year, a scaled down version of the system has been proposed.

The system has the support of the mayors and Quorum Court.

Under the new plan, Brown said the number of people who sign up will dictate the size of the system. He said it would be built in phases, much like water systems.

The new system will be financed with revenue bonds, rather than grants, and will be operated by a county facilities board, very similar to rural water and sewer system boards.

According to Brown, there are currently six municipal natural gas systems in the state, and he made a trip to Harrisburg to review the system there.

User agreements have been sent out to potential users in the county, both within city limits and rural areas. Brown explained the importance of returning the agreements, which do not require a deposit, like the first proposal. He said the difference is, users are asked to sign up for a seven-year period which will begin when the gas meter is installed. Currently 113 users have returned the contacts. Wright, explained the purpose of the agreements is to ensure there are enough users to warrant financing the system and to give an assurance to those who will purchase revenue bonds.

Small user will pay either a $10 monthly bill if they do not have many gas appliances and would not use much of the commodity. Larger users, who have furnaces and numerous other gas appliances, will pay a $20 monthly fee.

Both agreements are base prices with gas usage determining the final monthly cost and will vary with each household.

The advantages of natural gas over propane were also discussed at the meeting.

Because natural gas is a commodity, the price fluctuates. With an existing natural gas trunk line near Evening Shade, the system will be able to connect to the current line and run lines toward Evening Shade, Ash Flat, Highland, Cherokee Village, Hardy and later to Ozark Acres areas.

Noland, an architect who produced the pro forma for the original system and has a vast knowledge of gas systems, also took time to explain the safety advantages of natural gas over propane. He said it is lighter than air, therefore leaks rise, where propane is heavier and sinks. He said this makes natural gas safer. Noland said, over the last three years, he has heard no negativity about the proposed system. Noland said, "I strongly encourage users to sign up." He explained the system is intended to eventually serve everyone in Sharp County.

Lynn Maxedon, who has been a strong advocate for the system said the plan is to start small, off the main line and end large. He also said those living in Fulton county portions of the city are eligible for the system. After sign ups are in, a map will be generated with the most dense area being served first. As the system begins to generate revenue, phases, which add additional users, will be included in the system.

Some may have been concerned with the economy in regard to timing in beginning a gas system. Maxedon explained the lower cost energy would allow resident to save money, it will create jobs and possibly bring more industry to the area in the future. The construction of the system will create immediate local jobs, and interest rates are more desirable than they have been in many years, plus construction rates are also cost effective.

The audience was concerned with the cost of conversions and Steve McNulty of McNulty Plumbing, attempted to answer questions regarding the topic. McNulty said it is hard to give an estimate, as some appliances can convert from propane to natural gas with a simple orifice change, while others may have to be replaced. He and Brown suggested converting as appliances wear out.

The system is still in the works and it could be two years or more before it becomes a reality. Other questions were related to the lines going into the homes. McNulty explained natural gas lines require larger pipe because they are under less pressure than propane. He said many of the new homes he is plumbing in Cherokee Village are already being plumbed for natural gas, because you can still utilize propane with larger lines. It is just a matter of installing an orifice to increase pressure for propane.

Others asked about signing up for properties, which might need the gas later. Brown, Maxedon and Wright agreed, everyone should sign up for the natural gas during the initial phase, even if they are not served until later. After the initial phase, the cost could be significantly higher, as much as $1,500 or more if road bores and other construction become necessary.

Under the initial phase, users would only pay the $10 monthly charge after the meter is installed, whether they use the gas or not.

The investment equates to $840 over a seven-year period if gas is not utilized, but will also increase property value.

Residents who have not signed up are encouraged to do so as soon as possible so the county can determine whether there is enough support for the project to go forward.

Forms can be picked up, if not received in the mail, at Judge Larry Brown's office in the Sharp County Courthouse.

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