SHERIDAN — Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board members have spent time this week working to obtain applications and deposits for those willing to sign up for the natural gas pipeline project that will eventually serve the area.
The gathering of applications and deposits has taken place at chili feeds this week, the second of which will take place from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at the Tongue River Valley Community Center in Dayton. The board needs to secure 212 residential and 42 commercial applications by Jan. 31, 2018, before moving forward with funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In addition to community support through applications and deposits, the board needs to secure interim financing for design and engineering of the project, rights of way for land not included in the already approved rights of way from Sheridan County and other administrative positions. The administrative roles will become more essential once the project moves into the building stage.
The board completed an environmental assessment required by the USDA and continues work to finish small details outlined following the study.
Citizens with land falling both in and out of the municipal boundaries came to the chili feed and informational meeting on Tuesday in hopes of receiving answers on how to navigate the application and their utility usage going forward with this project in mind. For those living outside municipal boundaries or those owning land that split between town and out-of-town land, natural gas will not be available until the project establishes within the municipal boundaries and legislation passes through the state to allow joint powers boards to own and operate public utilities.
Last legislative session, local legislators Sen. Bruce Burns, R, Sheridan, and Rep. Bo Biteman, R, Ranchester, sponsored Senate File 79 that would have allowed JPBs to own and operate public utilities. Ranchester Mayor Peter Clark and chairman of the TRVJPB said the Wyoming Public Service Commission spoke against the bill, and Burns said a representative from Montana-Dakota Utilities told the legislators that this bill would open the door for any joint powers board to do this. The bill was tabled by the corporations committee in the last session. Burns worked with the corporations committee through the interim and the adjusted bill will come before the interim corporations committee Tuesday in Sundance. Clark remains skeptical of the bill becoming law in the short, budget-focused session in February.
“I’ve warned Mayor Clark that he better bring his experts on this issue because I just know what it does,” Burns said.
Clark advised citizens Tuesday that those living outside of municipal boundaries can expect at least two years to pass before natural gas will be available to them for use. He said annexing individual land into the city is not cost effective and those living outside the municipal boundaries probably do not want to be annexed in anyway.
For now, the board budgeted for those living within municipal boundaries only and will continue to focus on establishing that before focusing efforts on those living outside of the municipal boundaries. For those splitting the boundary lines, board members and Clark remain available to answer questions and help citizens navigate the application process.