YORK, Pa. (WHTM) – Residents describe recently-installed gas meters as eyesores that ruin the facades of their historic homes in York.
Wednesday, those concerns were brought directly to Columbia Gas representatives in a special meeting called by city and state leaders, along with Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Columbia Gas.
“You don’t have gas meters in really cool green like our house is, so it’s gonna be some ugly gray or something I’m sure,” said Mark Lentz, who owns a historic home in York and was upset to learn a technician wanted to install a meter right beside his front door. “And I’ve been told I’m not allowed to paint it … watch me!”
Lentz was one of many York residents who packed the meeting Wednesday, upset that Columbia Gas, they say, installed the meters without their knowledge.
Columbia Gas admits its notification process could have been better and that the meters are unsightly.
“I’m not gonna sell you that the natural gas meter is a pretty sight, I understand your concerns,” said Andrew Tubbs, Vice President of External and Customer Affairs for Columbia Gas. “[But] the location of a home in a historic district or eligibility to be in a historic district does not guarantee you have a right to keep a meter on the inside.”
Tubbs said that under PUC regulation, gas meters must now be located outside, citing mainly safety reasons.
“When you have a meter on the inside, it is in a confined space, and if there’s any type of leak associated with that meter, the gas is gonna be captured inside that home,” said Tubbs. “There’s more places for ignition inside the home than outside.”
If a car or some large object were to run into an outside meter — which was one of the residents’ concerns — Tubbs said gas leaking into the open air would dissipate and essentially go away on its own.
There is also a safety element for fire and other emergency personnel, Tubbs said.
“The ability for first responders to go and turn off the meter on the outside of the home shuts down gas much quicker than trying to locate a curb valve under the sidewalk,” said Tubbs.
But Lentz — whose meter is still inside his home and hasn’t yet been moved — isn’t buying Tubbs’ rationale.
“If it’s difficult to shut off the gas now, if I don’t pay my bill, I bet you shut my gas off pretty quickly,” Lentz said, to laughter in the crowd. “You’re insulting me with that!”
Even York’s mayor, Michael Helfrich, took Columbia Gas to task, questioning their notification process that left mainly tenants informed of the various meters’ installations and not property owners.
“We’ve got a lot of this language in [these regulations] that doesn’t sound like law at all. It’s ‘shall consider this, may consider that’,” Helfrich said. “I don’t think it can be legal for somebody to do something on private property without that conversation happening with the private property owner.”
Helfrich said 62% of York’s properties are rentals, so he asked Columbia Gas to work harder at making contact with property owners before installing any new meters.
Tubbs agreed the company can do better, sharing that they now plan to reword their notification letters and make them available in both English and Spanish.
Columbia Gas says just because a home is in a historic district or is eligible to be included in one, does not mean they are exempt from having an outside meter installed.
The company said it will work with residents who have specific concerns about moving their meters outdoors, but Tubbs was upfront in admitting that even when contacted about a possible exemption, their technicians will still work to find a suitable location outside to place a meter.