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Voters approve natural gas franchise rights for Sterling

by Lex Thomas

At the special town meeting on November 12, Sterling voters approved the Sterling Municipal Light Department as the utility of record and franchise holder for natural gas distribution within the town. One hundred votes were cast in favor of the proposal, and 29 opposed. The vote authorizes the creation and operation of a municipal gas plant, and the SMLD will launch an intensive study of the optimal method for providing natural gas to residents and businesses. The downtown and industrial areas, which comprise about 51 percent of the town’s potential gas customers, would be served first.

In a presentation to voters, Kenneth Stanley, president and CEO of Tri-Mont Engineering Co., described two possible methods for bringing natural gas to Sterling. One method is to install 5.4 miles of gas pipelines along I-190, which would feed gas into a metering station in town. The gas would be distributed through smaller pipelines to local customers. Alternatively, compressed natural gas could be transported by two or three tractor trailers per day, decompressed at an unloading station, and distributed through the town.

Stanley said it would likely take three to four years for natural gas service to begin in Sterling. He stated that, at a conservative estimate, the system was expected to generate approximately $4.1 million in annual revenue. After projected expenses of $3.7 million for financing, plus expenses for gas and transmission costs, and infrastructure maintenance, a profit of approximately $170,000 would be used to expand the system throughout other areas of the town.

More articles approved

In a second special town meeting on November 12, citizens voted in favor of transferring $1,420 from available funds to increase the Conant Public Library wage account, in order to correct an error in the town’s 2015 budget. In addition, voters approved an appropriation of $90,000 to purchase a new treasury, tax collection, and accounting software system, and to procure the technology hardware and local operating systems to operate it, as the current system will no longer be supported by the vendor after June 30, 2015. The $90,000 payment will be made from the $202,008 refunded to Sterling due to the town’s revised assessment under the revised WRSD budget.

An article prohibiting all boards, commissions, and committees from holding public meetings on the day of any election, in addition to banning any public meeting later than one hour prior to the start of any special town meeting, or the annual town meeting, was approved by voters.

Finally, voters approved authorization for an easement of two parcels of town-owned land at the Patriots Way development, allowing residents to acquire a septic system that is in compliance with Massachusetts Title 5 septic requirements.