After a heated debate at Thursday's Jefferson County Commission meeting, the group voted in a 3-2 decision to fund $20,000 toward a demand study on the feasibility of bringing natural gas to the county.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, brought the request before the group. Reisenweber has been working to bring new business to the area and explained that the lack of natural gas has hampered attracting companies.
Reisenweber explained that the demand study could cost as much as $80,000 but that others, including Berkeley County Council, will help with the cost. He explained that municipalities and businesses already located in the county attended a recent stakeholders' meeting to discuss the gas issue. Also at the table, he said, were representatives from the state Economic Development Office.
"We need to do this study to prove that the demand is there," Reisenweber said. He told commissioners that currently there is only one location where natural gas comes in to the county, at the former Kodak/3M plant. It has not been possible to re-develop that site as yet, he said.
While Berkeley County currently has natural gas, there are not sufficient pipelines to increase capacity and there are no lines that currently run to Jefferson, Reisenweber said.
A pre-feasibility study done by the Development Authority showed that there are currently there are two pipelines that run north and south of the Eastern Panhandle. The southern route in Virginia is fully committed, he said.
Mountaineer Gas has already indicated they believe the demand is here for the gas, Reisenweber said. They will also help with the demand study, commissioners were told.
"This is an investment in the community, despite the fact that budgets are down," Reisenweber said. "It don't want to be the guy still talking about this five years from now," he continued.
Commission President Walt Pellish joined Reisenweber in urging the commission to commit the $20,000.
"I can't stress enough the tone and attitude of the stakeholders at that meeting," Pellish said. "The image of Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle is at stake here."
Patsy Noland agreed saying that "this is a no brainer. I am willing to take the money from somewhere else to fund this study."
While Lyn Widmyer and Dale Manuel felt that not enough information was available to vote for the expenditure, Reisenweber explained that there was no commitment for future expenditures with the contribution to the study. While a pipeline would have to be built and would cost approximately $1.5 million per mile for a total of 19 miles, the study would not commit any funds be set aside for that expense.
Reisenweber stated bluntly that the Development Authority is working with several prospects but that those companies will not locate in this are without the availability of natural gas. In addition, he said, current businesses may be forced to leave the county.
Jane Tabb joined Pellish and Noland in the affirmative vote to approve the expenditure.
"I will vote to support it because it is critical to our future," Tabb said.