York City to hold public meeting about gas meters outside historic buildings

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City residents say new gas meters, like these in the 200 block of East King Street, are an eyesore, Thursday, July 18, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The York City Council will hold a public meeting next week to address the Columbia Gas meters installed outside historical buildings that many have said are intrusive and unsightly.

The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, in the City Council chambers.

Columbia Gas on Friday announced it would be suspending the installation of the gas meters in the city's historic district until further notice, and it held a private meeting on Monday with city officials, state lawmakers and some city residents.

"The meeting is going to be some short presentations on the history of the implementation of gas meters regulations," said York City Mayor Michael Helfrich. "It will provide current options for property owners, and there will be opportunities for the public to ask questions and make comments."

More:Columbia Gas halts meter installs amid public backlash in York City

Both Helfrich and Lou Rivera, a Democratic candidate for York City Council, said the closed meeting on Monday was productive. However, they both emphasized there were more questions that need to be answered.

Neither Columbia Gas nor the state Public Utility Commission has provided any concrete evidence that outside gas meters are safer, Helfrich said. He also questioned why the practice is happening in Pennsylvania but not other states.

Helfrich now anticipates having to work with state lawmakers and the governor to address the regulations, he added.

"I personally wasn't completely satisfied with the answers to our questions," Rivera said after the closed-door meeting. "These gas meters are hideous, and I'm still asking the question of how we got from point A to point B."

Rivera said he is most concerned with the lack of transparency by Columbia Gas, specifically regarding the company's failure to provide notices in Spanish for the Latino community that comprises roughly 33% of the city.

A representative for Columbia Gas didn't respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

There wasn't a quorum of the City Council at the closed-door meeting, Helfrich said, adding he had already planned the upcoming public meeting and simply wanted to "exchange information in an organized fashion."

Those present at the meeting included:

Helfrich; city solicitor Don Hoyt; City Council President Henry Nixon; state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City; a staffer for Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; Preservation Pennsylvania Executive Director Melinda Crawford; four representatives from Columbia Gas; acting city business administrator Thomas Ray; and a handful of city residents who have vocally opposed the meters, according to those in attendance.

Columbia Gas had been "neutral" about putting gas meters outside homes, a representative said last week, but that changed in 2014 when the PUC updated its regulations, citing safety reasons.

The PUC has said it's safer to put gas meters outside because it's easier to access the regulator and shut off gas flow in emergencies. The commission cites several incidents involving gas leaks as well as a 2008 explosion in Hummelstown, Dauphin County. 

Under the regulation, historic districts and buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places can be exempted from the otherwise mandatory installation. Many residents assumed that meant gas companies were barred from installing the meters outside any of the buildings in the historic district.

However, gas companies are only required to consider keeping the meters inside in such locations. They then have the authority to carry on with moving them outside if they view it as still necessary. 

Columbia Gas has pointed out that residents can opt to put the meters on the side of their homes or put up shields that may make the meters less offensive.

York City's historic district comprises a large portion of the city. It covers an area framed roughly by the Codorus Creek in the north, Princess Street to the south, Hartley Street in the west and Broad Street to the east, as well as the George Street corridor to Springettsbury Avenue.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.