In case you have been off the planet or otherwise indisposed, the German Village Society and Columbia Gas reached a settlement in our dispute over the relocation of gas meters within the district on September 29. The settlement was adopted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on October 20, 2017, marking the end of the formal complaint process. CLICK HERE TO READ THE SETTLEMENT
“Now what?” you ask. Implementation.
In the closing weeks of our complaint, we had 21 property owners waiting to hear the results prior to participating in the relocation of their gas meters to the exterior of their homes. Now that the case has been settled, these 21 properties have been the No. 1 priority for Columbia Gas so that they may shut down the aging low-pressure system, and turn on the new medium-pressure system, operating in new main lines.
It is the upgrades to the main lines that prompted the work in the first place.
In the past few weeks, I have met with several of these 21 property owners along this first of three priority routes slated for pipeline replacement ahead of the rest of the district in the years to come. Present at these site visits have been the owner of the property, a representative of Columbia Gas and me as preservation advocate for the German Village Society. Our goal at each meeting is to determine the new location of the resident’s gas meter per our settlement agreement.
I am thrilled to report that each and every meeting has resulted in:
1) A safe location for the meter;
2) A location that upholds, to the best of its ability, the guidelines we all follow within the district when it comes to exterior façade changes, and;
3) The owner actively participating in that decision.
With only one exception, (a corner lot) all meters thus far have been placed out of public view, with preference given to the rear façade, followed by as far back on a side façade as possible. Per our settlement, the front façade remains the LAST choice for meter relocation. In the case where a meter will be moved to a side façade within public view, a corner lot, Columbia has plans to paint and plant at the property owner’s request to assist in concealment.
The employees of Columbia Gas, without exception, have been a pleasure to work with, making a notable effort to adhere to our new agreement. This is to be commended!
Along the way, post-settlement, I and other staff members of GVS have been asked: “So what exactly was the win, and “Why did GVS see fit to spend $26,000 in legal fees to obtain this?”
In order to understand the relevance of this settlement, one must understand that prior to this complaint process, Columbia Gas, when it came to location choices for gas meters, had no binding reason to treat designated historic properties here in the district any different than, for instance, a stand-alone residence in rural Ohio, or a new construction residence in a suburban ring neighborhood. Even though we requested increased sensitivity and consideration within our district, nothing we could do could compel Columbia to consistently apply a different standard within our boundaries. And if they had agreed, we would still have had no legal means of compelling compliance long term.
After all, this is a 15- to 20-year process ahead of replacing the main lines. I won’t be here to remember; the Columbia Gas engineers currently on the streets with me won’t be here to remember.
With our settlement, we have obtained an operational shift in the approach of one of the largest utilities in the country. That is no small feat! We have obtained recognition of the value of cultural assets within the public domain, as demonstrated by the PUCO-adopted agreement. Avoiding rather than causing the adverse effect of gas meters on the primary façade of buildings within our district is now the preference.
Perhaps most importantly, and certainly worthy of our relatively small legal investment, in taking our issue to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio by filing a formal complaint, and having it adopt the terms of the settlement, we now have a means of redress should either party fail to adhere to the terms of the agreement. My research would suggest that this is the first agreement of its kind in the nation, the first to follow this particular process in reaching a mutually agreeable solution. While the issue is a common one in historic districts across the country, where property owners have felt powerless in protecting the historic integrity of their neighborhoods and economic investments as utility providers institute infrastructure upgrades, none have resulted in such an agreement. Other states have adopted legislative changes, initiated changes at the local level, and tried to work cooperatively with utility behemoths, yet tensions remain.
When we as preservationist frame this issue within this context nationally, we reveal that this settlement, at its essence, is a testament to the bold, and courageous leadership at Columbia Gas. In turn, it is also an affirmation of the intrinsic value of German Village to our community.
Questions? Call me anytime, 614-221-8888