Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Council votes 4-2 for $25,000 easement for Columbia Gas to put pump station near South Winter Street

By Brittany Forte', Laura Shrake and Amanda Colvin
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council voted 4-2 Monday evening to give Columbia Gas an easement to build a new regulator station at the old voting booth site near the Midway School Apartments in return for $25,000.

Columbia says the second regulator is needed to meet demand for gas in the area. Finding a location for their regulation station was not easy. Columbia says its trucks must be able to access the station in the winter and any kind of weather.

The decision came down to two locations within about 30 feet of each other, according to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. The other location was the cistern by the basketball courts in the park area at the south end of Gratz Street. (Google map)

The council discussed the options at length. Some worried that using the lot bordering South Winter Street would devalue property in the city. For Council Member Libby Warfield, that option wasn’t about the value of the property itself, but the prospect of what the lots could be used for instead—like developing up to five townhouses.

“I was pretty much against anything on those two lots,” said Warfield, who was on a council committee that voted 2-1 to recommend the location. “And it wasn’t a matter of money, but only the potential that lot could afford someone in the future. And maybe not the near future, but sooner or later there just won’t be any land to build anything on.”

Ultimately, Warfield said, finding a place for the regulator is not just about meeting Columbia Gas’s needs, but “our needs. Anyone that uses Columbia Gas’s product in this town is going to get cold if the regulator station they have operating now fails.”

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said, “There is no good spot for a regulator station. It has no value to us once it’s put in, but Columbia Gas’s customers are our residents, so I think we have to weigh those things.” He said he thought it would be unlikely that a developer would want to build townhouses on the site.

Warfield and Council Member Dan Roller wanted to put the regulator on top of the old cistern in the area, farther from Winter Street, but James Tipton of Columbia Gas said the cistern would have to be filled, at extra cost, and the existing concrete slab would not be ideal for running gas lines underground and into the regulator stations. “The cistern is not a very good option, if at all, for us,” he said. That raised the possibility that the company’s offer of $25,000 for an easement for the station might not be good for the cistern site.

Hicks, chair of the Cemetery and City Property Committee, said the property is “our park area. And even though we lease it to Midway University, we retain it as a park for children to play in. I feel that maintaining the boundaries of the park for public use is a really important goal.”

Council Member Daniel Roller, one of two dissenters, said the cistern site is a better fit because a dumpster is nearby. “What better place to put it than by the dumpster?” he asked. “The dumpster has an odor and there’s a lot of noise from people moving things in and out of it.”

Tipton assured Roller that odor and noise would not be an issue. He said the existing regulator “has a bypass and once it gets full it releases out a little gas, but it’s harmless.”He said new regulators no longer use that system, so nothing would be released into the air. As far as noise, he said, “You almost have to be inside the building to hear anything and that would be the gas flowing through the pipes.”

Roller still said the cistern would be best fit. “It would not be next to any property owners,” he said.

Columbia Gas earlier agreed to construct a building around the regulator station rather than the usual chain-link fence. Construction will likely not begin until after the start of the year.

Other business

Halloween: The council also approved the date and time for this year’s trick-or-treat: Saturday, October 31 from 6 to 8 p.m. Some cities in the Bluegrass have discussed moving trick-or-treat from Halloween this year because that is the last day of the Breeders’ Cup and the date of the Kentucky-Tennessee football game at Commonwealth Stadium, the time of which has not been set. Vandegrift said no cities have made the switch and he did not think Friday night would be safer.

Political money: The council passed a resolution from five elderly women calling themselves the Midway Elders, with a petition bearing 108 names, supporting a federal constitutional amendment to reverse court cases “that gave corporations rights of humans and declared money is speech.”

Sara Porter spoke on behalf of the group, which also included Ann Ortenburger, Neisje Spragens, Pat Wilson and Anita Wilson. “Money has corrupted our government more today than it ever has in the past,” Porter said. “In 2014, $1.7 billion was spent on elections.”

The petition included the signatures of council members Kaye Nita Gallagher, Bruce Southworth, Warfield and Hicks, who is Spragens’ daughter. The remaining council members, Steven Craig and Dan Roller, made and seconded the motion to support the resolution. Other petition signers included former council members Aaron Hamilton and Sharon Turner.

Mayor goes from licensee to regulator: The council also voted unanimously to make Vandegrift the city’s alcoholic beverage administrator. Current Administrator and Versailles Police Chief John Wilhoit will retire at the end of October, leaving the position open. Vandegrift recently closed his 815 Prime restaurant, which would have caused a conflict of interest if he had succeeded the previous mayor, Tom Bozarth, as administrator.

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