Homes looking for alternate heating

MARIETTA – With the discontinuation of their natural gas service looming in the near future, affordable heating options could soon become a pipe dream for some area residents.

A portion of the Eureka Hunter Pipeline, which supplies gas to residents from Waterford to Stanleyville, is set to be shut off Nov. 1, leaving 26 residences and businesses scrambling to find alternative heating options before the deadline.

“My grandmother is 95 years old. How can she afford propane or switching out to another provider?” asked Stanleyville resident Chuck Nonnenmacher.

Nonnenmacher’s home and adjacent business would also be affected by the shut-off and the cost implications are staggering, he said.

“Dominion wanted $139,000 to put gas to my house. I’ve got that letter here,” he said.

The pipeline and its service was one of many assets Eureka Hunter Pipeline, LLC took over in 2010 during another company’s bankruptcy.Alternative natural gas providers are not an option for some of the affected residents who will have to switch to propane or electric heating.

However, Eureka Hunter has never been a public utility company, and maintaining service has been costing the company money, said Dan McCormick, senior vice president of Eureka Hunter Pipeline.

“Twenty-six homeowners buying gas generates about $1,000 a month in revenue. We spend probably four times that much maintaining the line,” he said.

In addition, the 30-year-old line causes serious safety concerns, he said.

“We don’t want something to happen to this line in February where it would probably take days to fix it,” he said.

Eureka Hunter has been having meetings with affected customers since June to try to find alternative solutions.

However, as the deadline looms, McCormick said he is concerned that many customers have not been looking for alternatives.

“We’ve offered to provide free surveys for customers interested in switching to propane and so far I think one customer has taken us up on that,” he said.

Many residents had hoped that another natural gas service provider would be able to purchase the existing pipeline, eliminating the need for residents to dig all new natural gas pipelines.

Eureka Hunter offered to hand over control of the gas meters and lateral lines running off the main line to Northeast Ohio Natural Gas, but have not received any follow-up on the offer, said McCormick.

“There was never any strong discussion about us selling the main line or them purchasing it. But we have had discussions about them assuming ownership of the lateral lines going to each home,” he said.

The sale of the line would have saved Waterford resident Jeff Bauerbach quite a bit of money.

“That would have been sweet. I wouldn’t have had to do anything,” he said.

Bauerbach is getting the permits and permission to have a contractor dig more than a mile of pipeline to his home and business so he can take advantage of Northeast Ohio Natural Gas service.

He estimates the work will cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

However, Eureka Hunter has mentioned in some of its meetings with residents that they will be willing to offset some of that cost, said Bauerbach.

“They made that comment more than once to us. I won’t know how much they’re willing to offset until it’s all said and done,’ he said.

Muskingum Township resident John Biehl, 70, is also confused about how reimbursement would work.

As other natural gas companies have shown little interest in running their own lines to the area and Biehl does not want to switch to propane heating, he is planning to make the switch to electric heating. The electric furnace alone will cost $10,000, he said.

“They offered us some compensation, but they have not been forthcoming in saying how much they would provide. Like with my electrical system, are they going to give me $1,000, $2,000, nothing?” he asked.

Many of the people currently supplied by the pipeline are on a fixed income, and there is a very real possibility that some will be without heat at the Nov. 1 cutoff, said Biehl.

“It’s been a very confusing and upsetting ordeal for everybody on this pipeline,” he said.

Bauerbach said he understands the company wanting to shut off the pipeline for financial reasons.

“They’re not actually in the utility business is the problem. They’re losing money,” he said.

Bauerbach also appreciated that the company extended the shut-off date, which was originally set for July 10, he said.

Still, there is a possibility even he will be temporarily without heat while he finishes getting his new system up and running.

“I’m not happy about the whole ordeal, but what are you going to do?” he asked.