Natural gas still on Smithfield's agenda

But company says it would be expensive

pseligson@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

The Smithfield Town Council is still trying to bring natural gas to East Smithfield.

At the council’s meeting last week, East Smithfield Councilman Charles Williams asked Town Manager Paul Sabiston for an update on his negotiations with Piedmont Natural Gas. Sabiston has been talking with the company since East Smithfield resident Dennis Williams complained earlier this year that Piedmont had broken its promise to bring natural gas to his community.

Sabiston said Piedmont Natural Gas has been cooperative and is interested in connecting parts of East Smithfield to its gas lines. But even under the best-case scenario, in which a large number of households signed on, the company would still have to pass more than $100,000 in infrastructure costs onto its customers, Sabiston said.

Williams said the town should complain to the N.C. Utilities Commission. “The gas company came to the town and asked permission to produce gas in the town of Smithfield for all the citizens, and they didn’t say anything to anyone about that type of price,” he said, referring to the $100,000. “They have not finished the job started. The town of Smithfield should be fighting to make sure that people that want gas get it.”

Other councilmen were concerned about the cost of preparing a case the town could present to the Utilities Commission. After much discussion, the council settled on a three-pronged approach. Sabiston will work with Piedmont Natural Gas to survey how many East Smithfield residents are interested in buying gas. He will also look into what’s involved in going before the Utilities Commission, especially the cost of hiring a lawyer. Town staff, meanwhile, will look for grants that could cover the infrastructure cost.

Guns allowed at town parks

The council changed a Smithfield ordinance to allow weapons, including concealed weapons, on more town property. “This amendment to our ordinance is just to meet the recently passed state (law),” Sabiston said. He described Smithfield as following the bare minimum of that law.

People can now bring weapons to town parks. The only exceptions are athletic fields in use during a town-sponsored event.

Other business

The town council voted 4-3 to expand the types of businesses allowed in land zoned for heavy industry.

The owners of Keener Lumber Co. are trying to sell their now-closed sawmill in West Smithfield. In the meantime, they want to use the land for commercial purposes but don’t want to seek commercial zoning because town rules would require them to make costly improvements.

The owners asked the town to allow automobile sales, flea markets and recreation in the heavy-industry zoning classification. Sabiston and Town Planner Paul Embler opposed the change; the planning board backed it.

Councilmen Zach Crocker, Charles A. Williams, Andy Moore and Emery Ashley voted to make the change. Councilmen Charles Williams, Perry Harris and Vic Ogburn opposed it.

Finally last week, Sabiston said the long-running Smithfield Crossings project is nearing completion. Southbound traffic on Industrial Park Drive has been diverted to the new road, and the traffic circle is under construction.

Councilmen have expressed concern about the project not wrapping up before the holiday shopping season at Carolina Premium Outlets. Police Chief Michael Scott said he will make more police officers available to direct traffic and answer questions.


Seligson: 919-836-5768

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