The 26 residents affected by the possible shutdown of the Beverly Bell Pipeline, which is operated by Eureka Hunter and runs from Waterford to Stanleyville, can all breathe a little easier, as alternative gas service providers appear to have been found.
Dan McCormick, senior vice president of Eureka Hunter said the news came after several months of searching.
"After three months, Eureka Hunter has found alternatives for 100 percent of the customers," he said.
The company had initially planned to stop service and abandon the line on Nov. 1 but an order from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) delayed that action. Residents said they were faced with no heat in the short-term and implementing costly alternative heat methods in the long-term.
At a meeting with PUCO in Columbus last Thursday, McCormick said he updated PUCO attorneys on progress: the two alternative service providers are Northeast Ohio Natural Gas and Dominion Natural Gas.
"They both have service in the area, but not service directly in the vicinity (of the pipeline)," McCormick said.
The two providers will allow residents to keep natural gas as their main source of heat.
McCormick said it is Eureka Hunter's intent to pay for some or all of the cost of transitioning customers over to the new service, especially because the new providers will have to lay extra pipe to tap into the Beverly Bell Pipeline.
McCormick added that many of the homeowners at the meeting were complimentary of the efforts made by Eureka Hunter.
He said the pipeline was acquired after Triad Energy's bankruptcy in 2010 and it wasn't set up to be a public utility line. Despite this, 26 residents were getting natural gas from the line. He added that the line wasn't properly maintained under Triad and after acquiring it, it quickly became a safety concern because the full extent of its condition was largely unknown.
McCormick said once it became apparent that there was a safety concern for homeowners, Eureka decided to end service and send out notices to the affected residents.
"We carried it for a few years, but we could no longer in good faith provide service," McCormick said.
Stanleyville resident Chuck Nonnenmacher said PUCO has asked residents not to speak to the press until the situation is totally resolved, but he did say residents are happy with the proceedings thus far.
"It's working out the way we wanted," he said. "It's very positive...We're happy with the progress, but we still have a long road ahead of us."
John Biehl, of Muskingum Township, is another resident affected by the issues with the pipeline. He had already been preparing to make a switch from natural gas.
"I certainly did prepare and spend the money in preparation to have a new furnace system put in," he said.
Even though Biehl put an excess of $2,000 into preparations to change, he's happy to be keeping his access to natural gas.
"I'm very happy to keep natural gas," he said. "There was a lot of effort with Eureka, (PUCO) and the homeowners. There was a tremendous amount of effort from everybody."
Biehl added that it's been rough going but it looks like the end might be in sight.
"It's been an arduous task but...it looks like the results will be positive in maintaining natural gas versus electric or propane," he said.
Jason Gilham, deputy director of the office of public affairs for PUCO, said PUCO would not comment on the issue because it is an open case in front of the commission. He added that the discussion last week was an informal settlement discussion and that PUCO is "hopeful that a settlement can be reached."
Nonnenmacher said Eureka Hunter plans to start work on getting new service providers set up some time in April. He is concerned that the new natural gas services won't be ready by the time it is needed again in the fall.
McCormick said residents shouldn't worry.
"We won't turn the gas off until the customers have the alternative service," he said.
Northeast Ohio Natural Gas and Dominion Natural Gas officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.