This story originally ran in the March 17 issue of the Community Voice. For your own subscription, call 270-384-9454.
A proposed project that sat idle for several years is back on the table after a group of farmers and other citizens attended Monday night’s fiscal court meeting.
County Judge Executive Gale Cowan said the discussion to consider starting a natural gas company originated during the previous administration, when Mike Stephens was judge.
“We are at the point now where we need to decide if we want to move forward with it, or if we don’t,” Cowan said.
The judge said she is in favor of looking into the project and believes it would help area farmers, rock quarries and homeowners.
She asked Lenny Stone, general manager of the Columbia-Adair Utilities District, if he would like to comment and Stone said he would answer any questions the court may have. Stone said the first step would need to be for the county to establish a commit- tee that could determine if a county-operated natural gas company would be financially feasible.
“We originally started this under Judge Stephens’ administration, looking into getting natural gas out into the county, and it’s a challenging thing to do but it can be done,” Stone said.
Stone said they reviewed state law and received Attorney General’s opinions. The county can establish a gas system and there are options on how it would be operated, he said.
The original plan called for running the first lines in the Portland area, but there is demand in other parts of the county, too, Stone said.
“You can see by a lot of people here tonight, this is not just a phase to go to Portland,” Stone said. “I think everybody here who supports natural gas is asking for a county gas system that would go all over the county.”
When they first started looking into it, Stone said the found there were 14 poultry houses that would be impacted by the first phase.
“ We had 135 people in that area that signed up that would take natural gas if it were presented to them – for their homes, people talking about their greenhouses, grain dryers,” Stone said.
Countywide, the utility district sent out a questionnaire and received around 4,000 back, with 3,000 to 3,200 people wanting gas or wanting to know more about it, he added. Stone said the court could set stipulations similar to what the utility board did when they considered a new water plant.
“We created a board just to look and see if it made sense, to see if we could get the money,” he said.
Cowan said a lot of people are saying she is interested in doing this because it is going to Portland, but she said she is only interested if it is countywide.
Magistrates asked numerous questions about the legal pro- cedures and the costs required to get the proj- ect in place. Those are the type of questions a committee would seek answers for, Stone said.
Magistrate Daryl Flatt asked about the possibility of the county merging a gas operation with the city, which already operates a natural gas company and has developed lines outside of the city limits within the county.
Stone asked one of the farmers in the audience how long he had asked the city for natural gas and he responded that it was going on 10 years.
“I think everything should be left on the table right now,” Stone said. “You just need to put a group together to look into it. I have to stop right now ; I can’t go any further until that group is formed.”
Magistrates voted unanimously to allow Cowan to recommend a committee to research the feasibility of a natural gas operation and Cowan said she would have the names for the next court meeting.
During an interview after the meeting, Cowan was asked why the project stalled and she replied that it was pushed to the back burner when the pandemic started. Cowan was part of a group that visited a county that operates a similar project during the beginning of her administration.
“They were very favorable of it, but Covid hit and we pretty much had to switch gears,” she said. She was approached again about the need for the county to make the next move, and she put it on the agenda, she said.
By Sharon Burton