Natural gas board works on details of establishment

DAYTON — The Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board had hoped to meet with representatives from Montana-Dakota Utilities at its meeting Wednesday to discuss potential options for partnering to bring natural gas to Dayton and Ranchester, but an MDU representative called Wednesday to say no one was available from the Montana offices to make the meeting.

Board Chairman Peter Clark said members of the joint powers board have extended an open invitation to MDU and still hope to hold a discussion at some point.

The rest of the meeting Wednesday focused on essential housekeeping duties needed to finalize the establishment of the joint powers board, Dayton Mayor Bob Wood said. Wood is not a member of the board but has attended every meeting to follow its progress.

The board established its official physical address as the Lucille Alley room in Dayton Town Hall, located at 608 Broadway Street. It will apply for an individual P.O. Box.

Wood said arrangements are made to set up a checking account, and Treasurer Karen Walters is in the process of becoming bonded. The board hired Tony Wendtland as its attorney. Wendtland offers experience in pipeline construction and oil and gas. He has been the attorney for the Sheridan Area Water Supply Joint Powers Board since 2005.

The board gathered all the necessary information to complete its application to receive liability coverage, and it will soon submit an application to get a tax identification number.

Board members have decided to apply to the State Loan and Investment Board for funding to cover the entire cost of bringing natural gas to the valley. The SLIB funds would be a 50 percent grant and 50 percent long-term, low interest loan, Wood said. The grant application is due by mid-February and will be decided in June.

Steven Shute, who owns Pinedale Natural Gas in Pinedale and is acting as a consultant for the board, has estimated it will take $3.5 to $4 million to complete the project if local contractors are used to lay the pipeline and do other work.

Dayton Town Clerk Linda Lofgren offered to help with the grant application since she has some experience with SLIB grants. The board will hold a workshop before its meeting Jan. 8 to further discuss the grant application.

The board has decided to send Clark and Sheridan County School District 1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith to the legislative forum in January to present the need for natural gas in the Tongue River valley to local legislators and seek their support.

Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, has already offered to submit a bill during the 2014 legislative session asking that joint powers boards be allowed to control natural gas lines. Current language states that joint powers boards can control water and sewer lines but make no mention of gas lines.

Members of the board also discussed how to set up their budget. At this point, each entity that is part of the board — Dayton, Ranchester and SCSD 1 — has contributed $2,000 for start-up costs. Establishing a budget is necessary to apply for a SLIB grant, Wood said.

The Tongue River Valley Joint Powers board was formed to oversee the process of bringing a natural gas pipeline to the Tongue River Valley, offering a significantly cheaper energy alternative than diesel, propane and electricity. Natural gas costs, on average, one-third to half the price of propane. The price to convert from propane to natural gas is estimated at approximately $500 to $1,500 per household.

The board will hold its next meeting Jan. 8.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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