Region 8 county could become 1st in state to go "natural"

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

SHARP COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Officials in Sharp County told Region 8 News Wednesday residents interested in utilizing natural gas for heating their homes should sign up for a $100 fee to bring the resource to their city. According to Sharp County Judge Larry Brown, USDA Rural Development is conducting a financial feasibility study to see if the county can construct a natural gas pipeline from the high-pressure line located on U.S. Highway 167 south of Evening Shade. The pipeline would run along the highway to Hardy if enough people express interest in natural gas.

"People have the opportunity to sign for $100. Now once the feasibility is done and it's determined that we can't run gas to your location, you're going to get that $100 back," said Brown. "It'd be another option for the citizens. It'll create competition but also it'll create economic opportunities for our communities."

If Sharp County gets a loan from the USDA, then it would be the first county in the state to own a natural gas system.

"If it's not financially feasible, then the USDA will not fund it. If it is feasible, then we're going to create this opportunity for folks," said Brown. "Right now construction costs are lower. We have this money available through the USDA and we have a high pressure gas line that crosses 167 south of Evening Shade. Those are things that we think make the project feasible if the citizens of Sharp County would like to have it."

More than 600 people have signed up for a natural gas pipeline system, according to Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton.

"A feasibility study was done in the original context and it showed and came back in record numbers that people wanted to get a natural gas line here," said Thornton.

Thornton said the $100 cost is cheap compared to waiting and having a private contractor do the work.

"When you see that pipeline coming down through the highway down through the trunk, you know, you're going to want to sign up but it's going to cost you more," said Thornton. "Immediately what's going to happen is construction is going to happen, and every time that we've done construction in the past, we found out that we use way more people from the area than we do from out of the area."

"With this study and with the amount of money that we're going to get from the USDA, the meter will be immediately outside your home, you will not have to go to the street from the street to your home with the line," said Thornton.

Jeff Spencer with the USDA told Region 8 News that extra funding is available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which runs out in September.

"That money has been made available to USDA rural development. There's quite a bit of additional funds. Of course you're competing nationwide for those funds," said Spencer. "We want to be in position if it is feasible to be able to obligate this money in the summer before the competition gets such that it's gone to some other state."

The sign-up fee will expire March 29, 2010. Brown said the county would continue to accept sign-ups, but at a higher fee.

"We need a commitment to know that if we're going to expend this much taxpayer money, that there is a commitment by the citizens that they do want this project," said Spencer.

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