City, Atmos Energy to share costs of gas main relocation

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

August 7, 2008 - A natural gas delivery company and the city of Sulphur Springs will split the estimated $96,000 cost of moving a gas main under Main Street that will assure the road shouldn't have to be torn up for utility repairs for a long, long time.

The Sulphur Springs City Council approved the agreement to halve the cost with Atmost Energy to relocate the gas line underneath Main Street, which is being rebuilt. The solution to the vexing problem would also gained high praise from unexpected sources for Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell.

When all the work is completed to rebuild Main Street, the road will have a concrete base covered with bricks to make the street both more attractive and encourage motorists to slow down on the road. The design is part of a plan, along with planting trees and widening sidewalks, to make the street more pedestrian friendly.

City Manager Marc Maxwell explained that Atmos had been asked to move the gas line under Main Street, as city staff are trying to get all utility lines from underneat the roadway. The hope is that they can eliminate any chance of the street being torn up if no repairs have to be made below the surface.

But Atmos officials didn't exactly respond to the idea with enthusiasm.

Initially, the city manager said, planners were prepared to deal with the gas line remaining under the new street.

"We can't require them to move it," Maxwell explained. "And we can work around it -- it's in relatively good shape."

But further inspection revealed some minor leaks, enough to raise concerns that the natural gas utility provider would, at some point in the none-too-distant future, have to dig through the new concrete subsurface to make repairs.

At that point, Maxwell said, Atmos was told they were free to leave the gas main under Main Street, but should any repairs ever need to be make, "we will not allow them to dig up the street."

Atmos officials responded that the line could be moved one block south to Tomlinson Street, but balked at footing the entire bill -- close to $100,000 -- for relocation.

Maxwell came up with an answer that would let the city pay for half of the cost over two years. Atmos will hold the money out of the franchise fee that Atmos pays the city to do business in Sulphur Springs -- $25,000 the first year, a little less the next.

"I recommend approval," Maxwell told the council, "and we'll never have to worry about Main Street again."

Council members gave the OK to the agreement without a dissenting vote.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Maxwell's creative answer received some unsolicited praise.

Stan McKee, representing Oncor (the company that delivers electicity to homes and businesses in the area), had lost a battle with Maxwell and the council earlier in the evening regarding a rate case. But he obviously held no hard feelings toward the city manager.

"I've worked for Oncor for 30 years, and I've stood before a lot of city councils, and y'all have one of the most innovative city manager's I've ever seen," McKee said.

From the other side of the room, Jeannette Moser with Atmos Energy chimed in.

"I second that," she said.

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