Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Darrell Wilson, local marketing and communications director for Chesapeake Utilities, discussed a recent survey designed to gauge prospective interest of residents in natural gas for Hurlock.
HURLOCK — Natural gas may be a step closer to providing energy for Hurlock’s business community. At the April 28 Town Council meeting Darrell Wilson and Greg Denston of Chesapeake Utilities shared results of a survey sent to 700 Hurlock property owners to gauge interest in natural gas. Mr. Wilson reiterated that the 2011 franchise agreement between the utility company and the town serves “anchor customers” Amick Poultry and B&G and provides energy for Hurlock Elementary School. The survey revealed 40 people not interested; 38 interested. Although hardly an endorsement, the results highlighted a problem. The survey was not specifically directed to the business community which expresses the most interest in gas as an energy source. A map showed a pocket of interest near the downtown business district. Mr. Wilson explained that the costs to run an extension downtown from the current metering station at Amick would be $30-35/ft., or about $185,000. “That’s a significant investment,” he said, and recommended re-surveying residents and businesses in 6-12 months. “At this point the interest level is not economical to continue to expand.” He suggested the company would act as a resource and would attend future town meetings to increase interest. Resident Frank Fraley asked “what number are you looking for to be feasible?” Mr. Wilson responded it would depend on the amount of extension to a particular area. The costs to do infrastructure vary depending on the business, length of pipe, location, or potential obstructions. “We would need to cover the cost which would be about $400 a year for a residential customer. Generally speaking we need to make up that investment in six years so it would be $2,400 over and above the overall initial cost.” Approximately 77 customers would cover the cost over 6 years. Councilman Jerry Rhue asked how many would the company need in the business district? “The challenge,” answered Mr. Wilson, “is that with the number of variables in our industry there’s not a set answer.” Mayor Joyce Spratt asked if the company had looked at just doing the Enterprise Zone. Mr. Wilson said, “No, we specifically looked at the survey responses.” Councilman Charles Cephas said, “We’re talking about 8 or 9 businesses interested in natural gas. Would you need a whole town survey for the business district?” Mr. Wilson said the purpose was to reach all potential customers. He said if a separate survey was done the results should be plugged into the current map. A second survey was not done but resident Frank Bittner, selected by the Hurlock Citizens Committee to be its spokesman, said in his interviews with some business owners several expressed interest in gas conversions. “There was a rumor that it would cost $12,000 to convert a furnace. That is absolutely not true.” At the November meeting Mr. Wilson said an estimated commitment rate of 80-90 percent was necessary. Mr. Bittner said that sounded reasonable if the gas was used only for fireplaces. “But if it is for heat and hot water maybe you could do it for 45-49 percent. We are asking the town to help out financially to get the feeders in the road if the utility says ‘yes.’” Mr. Bittner added that his group is interested specifically in the original business district, not the whole enterprise zone. The businesses involved are part of the “inner city restoration project which the town is hoping to revitalize. Maybe we need a separate survey.” Councilman Murphy explained that at the last council meeting, the council agreed to send a letter to Mr. Wilson asking him to address the estimated costs of running feeder lines to the Enterprise Zone. Asked about surveying only the downtown business district, Mr. Wilson proposed a separate questionnaire to determine individual interest levels and energy requirements. Councilman Cephas said that during meetings several years ago Mr. Wilson focused on businesses and said residential would come later if there was a need. “We won’t have 20 businesses in the downtown section,” said the councilman, but it would be a mixed usage that includes churches. Mr. Denston suggested the service line to businesses would pass some residences that could be included. Councilman Earl Murphy asked that empty businesses be added as potential customers and suggested the natural gas service could attract new businesses. “If you know a business that is moving to town we would definitely want to include them in any analysis,” said Mr. Wilson. Although not mentioned at the meeting, the town is working with Dollar General, who hopes to construct a 9,100 sq. ft. store on Main Street. Town Attorney Robert Merriken suggested that a neighborhood could be defined. A volunteer could go to the community and say, “we need ‘X’ number of people to sign up. That way we could do education and recruiting and come back to you. If we just keep doing surveys it’s not going to happen. Maybe Mr. Bittner’s group could help define the neighborhoods where there is a cluster of interest.” If Chesapeake Utilities could offer a goal number for installations, “it might happen with education and door to door canvassing.” Mr. Wilson agreed it could be done in a number of ways to include residences in between the businesses. Mayor Spratt asked him to return with estimated cost averages for residences and businesses. She requested a sample questionnaire geared to the business district and suggested it be done “fairly quickly because of the infrastructure work planned for Main Street.” Mr. Bittner offered to revisit the businesses, advise them about the new survey, and keep a checklist of progress for Mr. Avery. Bay Country cable subscribers could not observe the discussion because officials were unable to establish a connection. According to County Councilman Rick Price, three pieces of legislation will be heard in May. On May 5 and 12 there are hearings on the budget with a vote on May 19. The meeting on May 5 will hear proposed amendments to the county’s solid waste management plan which includes the proposed vertical expansion of Beulah landfill. On May 19 a public hearing will discuss repeal of the 2012 fire sprinkler exemption from state law which is due to expire. The exemption was enacted as part of the county building code and does not apply to building permits for one and two family units filed on or before June 30, 2015. Councilman Cephas asked Councilman Price if the county has looked at the per-home cost of sprinkler installations. He said, “I’m pretty sure we’re talking about $6-10,000 for a person already burdened. And, he asked the council what the repercussions are if the council says ‘no.’ In her report, Mayor Spratt said the May 3 fundraiser for Police Chief Les Hutton’s wife Joanne is sold out. Police Capt. Michael Henry presented the March call-in report, including: 220 traffic violations; 10 traffic accident investigations; 30 incident and criminal complaints; 6 adult arrests; and 1 juvenile referral. Councilman Cephas said he is very disturbed by what has happened in Baltimore and asked everyone not be judged by the actions of a few. He said it is sickening to see this type of violence and mean spiritedness” and that law enforcement “is the line between chaos and our lives.” He praised the town’s police department and noted, “You can feel safe here.”