Quiet hearing at Belpre on natural gas aggregation

BELPRE – No members of the community spoke up during the final public hearing concerning the city’s upcoming natural gas aggregation program prior to the regular Belpre City Council meeting Monday evening.

Although council president Will Neff gave the small number of audience members several minutes to ask questions of councilmembers and Volunteer Energy Services’ representative Chris Munn, the hearing was silent.

“There were a couple of people here who wanted to ask questions and chose not to because they did not understand how the public hearing worked,” said city safety-service director Dave Ferguson. “(Munn) and I ended up speaking with them in the hall after the hearing, but they really should have asked questions while in the open forum.”

This was the second of two public hearings required by the state to discuss city residents’ comments and concerns about the program, Ferguson added.

Last August the city’s electric aggregation program, provided by DPL Energy Resources and organized by Volunteer Energy, which is the city’s chosen partner for the two energy-savings programs, began.

During a May council meeting, Fred Holmes with Volunteer Energy said they separated the natural gas and electric programs to keep confusion of the public to a minimum. By doing the natural gas aggregation program now, there will be plenty of time to start the lower cost service before cold weather begins, he said.

Although DPL Energy Resources offers the electric program to the city through Volunteer Energy, there will be no third party with the natural gas, as Volunteer Energy is the supplier of that resource.

Now that the public hearings have occurred, council can begin to pass all three readings of the legislation.

Following the final reading, the project will go before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for approval. Ferguson added the final reading of the legislation will likely take place in six weeks.

The rate for the natural gas will be the New York Mercantile Exchange price plus 60 cents per 1,000 cubic foot.

In November 2011, Belpre voters passed the opt-out programs, which have the potential to save residents money if they choose to go with the city for these bills.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Belpre residents and property owners Ronald and Carole Will, of 120 Locust St., told council of city water main issues that are wreaking havoc on their rental property at 117 Locust St.

“We just had the waterline (running from the house to the water main) repaired for the seventh time in a year and a half and it continues to leak,” said Carole Will. “The tenants are complaining about mosquitoes and the mold and mildew associated with the water has us worried about illnesses.”

Ferguson, who has looked at the property, said the water main leak is the city’s problem and it will be repaired when electric company AEP is available to secure the utility pole that could be affected by the work.

“It is an older line put in years and years and years ago,” Ferguson said. “The issue in fixing it right away is getting AEP to be here for that to hold up the utility pole because the city cannot do that.”

Neff thanked the Wills for bringing the issue up to the city.

“This clearly is an administrative issue,” he added.

Council passed the second of three readings of an ordinance that amends the city’s current landscape ordinance. The changes provide for minimal landscaping standards of certain areas in connection with new construction, change in use or reconstruction, renovations or remodeling that requires a building permit to be obtained.

The third reading is expected during the July 8 council meeting.