Ron Ashby says he’s relieved UGI decided not to install a gas meter outside his historic home on North Charlotte Street in Lancaster, and allowed him to keep his basement location instead.
He said UGI “did a nice job” installing a regulator pipe — which has to be outside no matter what — in “an inconspicuous little corner.”
But he’s puzzled by the company’s about-face.
Ashby first notified UGI last fall that he wanted his meter to stay inside. Yet as recently as last week — in a meeting attended by city Chief of Staff Matt Johnson and state Rep. Mike Sturla’s Chief of Staff Greg Paulson — Ashby says UGI representatives remained “adamant” it had to be outside.
“They were saying there was nothing they could do about it,” and that his gas would be shut off if he didn’t agree to an outside placement, he said.
UGI is installing new meters step by step throughout Lancaster, part of a major infrastructure overhaul that will allow the system to handle higher-pressure gas.
The meter relocations are being done at UGI’s expense “to meet regulatory requirements and to enhance customer safety,” spokesman Joe Swope said.
Ashby’s house is in the Local Historic District, the stricter of the two historic preservation zones that cover much of Lancaster.
Regulations say utilities must consider inside meter placement in historic districts when asked. But city officials say UGI has been treating the requirement as a formality and consistently denying request after request, to the city’s frustration.
Johnson said he was “pleasantly surprised” by UGI’s decision in Ashby’s case and hopes it’s “an indicator of things to come.”
It doesn’t appear to be.
In Ashby’s case, UGI “determined there was no viable outside location to place a meter,” Swope said.
But UGI’s policy isn’t changing, and that policy is to move interior meter placements outside “whenever possible,” he said.
A few doors away from Ashby, City Councilman John Graupera and his wife, Candy, reluctantly let UGI proceed with an exterior meter installation. Now they have an extension pipe protruding from beneath a bay window — an unwelcome component that Candy Graupera says wasn’t discussed beforehand.
“I will likely request they move the meter back to my basement,” she said.
The city is urging households to stand up for their rights.
A letter went out to Charlotte Street homeowners last week, advising them of UGI’s online request form for alternative meter placement. It recommends they contact the Public Utility Commission, UGI's state regulator, with any complaints about the utility's installation practices and to notify the city’s historic preservation specialist when they do.
UGI is upgrading its infrastructure on Charlotte Street in advance of the city’s project to convert it to two-way traffic.
When UGI crews reach other neighborhoods, letters will go out to those areas as well, Johnson said.
Meanwhile, the city is part of a multimunicipal coalition formed to sue the Public Utility Commission over the issue.
It would argue that the agency’s failure to rein in gas utilities in officially designated historic areas violates the state constitution, which guarantees the protection of “public natural resources,” including their “historic and aesthetic values.”
The suit is pending while the coalition gauges other municipalities’ interest in joining.
A commission spokesman declined to comment.