German Village Society Gearing Up For a Fight on Gas Meters
The German Village Society has taken its battle against Columbia Gas over the placement of gas meters in the neighborhood to the next level, filing a formal complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).
The complaint, which was filed on Monday, asks PUCO to stop the utility from moving gas meters from the inside of homes to the outside – work that Columbia Gas started last week as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade deteriorating gas lines and related infrastructure all over the state.
Nancy Kotting, Historic Preservation Advocate for the society, said that the decision to hire a lawyer and file the complaint came after multiple failed attempts at reaching a compromise with the gas utility, including three informal meetings convened by PUCO.
“They have not budged from their position,” she said, which is to place the meters on the front or side of buildings. That would create what preservationists call an adverse effect, according to Kotting, “something you do everything to avoid.”
The society would like to see preservation prioritized for properties within a historic district, an approach that has been codified in states like Delaware and Rhode Island.
Columbia Gas provided the following statement in response to the filing:
“We are working with each customer to identify the safest location for their meter and in most cases that location will be outside. Moving meters to outside locations enhances the safety of our system and is in compliance with state and federal regulations. While we acknowledge the aesthetic concerns of the German Village Society, aesthetics should not compromise safety.”
Because Columbia Gas is a public utility, they are not required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the German Village Commission for the work, and because no federal funds are being used for the project, there is no additional regulatory review of the proposal. That leaves PUCO as the entity with jurisdiction over the dispute.
Although the German Village Society’s original concern was rooted in a desire to preserve the historic look of homes in the district, safety issues are featured prominently in the complaint submitted to PUCO.
Kotting said that statistics that she obtained from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration raise questions about the safety of exterior meters. Although the utility cites the ability for emergency responders to easily access meters as a key factor in placing them outside, when meters are outside they are exposed to other risks, such as cars running into them.
“I asked PUCO and Columbia Gas if there has ever been an independent study to see whether it’s safer on the inside or outside, and the reality is, nobody knows for sure,” she said. “Obviously, we don’t want to be advocating for something that is dangerous, but we feel the data is pointing to the inside as being safer.”
The society is gathering signatures on a petition asking for an independent study to be performed, and is also offering individual property owners in the neighborhood the opportunity to join the complaint filed with PUCO.
A letter addressed to Mayor Andrew Ginther from the National Trust for Historic Preservation also offered support, saying; “we believe a compromise can be reached that allows for safe placement of gas meters while also respecting the historic character that makes German Village and other Columbus neighborhoods so unique and attractive to homeowners and tourists.”
Kotting said that she is continually surprised at how many Columbus residents are unaware of the stature of German Village in the world of historic preservation. It is the third-oldest legally recognized historic district in the country, behind only Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. That means that the Columbia Gas dispute is being watched closely, and could set a precedent for other historic districts.
“This is not just a bunch of wealthy people trying to keep something ugly off the front of their house,” she said. “This is about saving a nationally-recognized American treasure.”