DOBSON — Despite indications Surry County would allocate its share of funding to extend natural gas to Westwood Industrial Park, “Project Glow” got left in the dark during a meeting this week.
However, it wasn’t a case of not wanting to participate financially in an effort with Mount Airy to construct the gas line to benefit existing companies and help lure others to the city-owned park, a county official says. The matter that involves meeting half of a $95,000 funding shortfall simply fell through the cracks, Surry Board of Commissioners Chairman Eddie Harris explained.
“We had all intentions of giving that a good airing last night,” Harris said Tuesday afternoon of a county commissioners meeting on Monday night.
“However, we just had such a lengthy meeting that we were unable to give it the consideration that it deserves,” Harris added of “Project Glow,” a code name assigned to the natural gas project. “We didn’t get out until after 11 (p.m.).”
There had been indications that the county commissioners would approve their share of the cost, $47,500, at their one and only meeting in July, the session held this week.
Those indications came before a June 19 meeting of the city commissioners, who voted then to supply the needed $95,000 in full and expressed hope that the county would ante up in July.
A sense of urgency accompanied the June action, which involved securing a state grant for the project. The city government was forced to move ahead so construction on the line could start by the end of this year and thus avoid the withdrawal of the grant.
With the natural gas project to cost $320,000 — for building a line from West Lebanon Street to the end of Boggs Drive in the industrial park — Frontier Natural Gas, the energy supplier, has agreed to contribute $145,000 of that.
Mount Airy also was awarded an $80,000 grant in 2013 through the Industrial Development Fund of the N.C. Department of Commerce to help offset the expense. This left the funding shortfall of $95,000, including a 25 percent local match for the state grant, which the city and county normally split in such cases.
In light of the expected participation by the county, language was removed from the funding resolution approved by the city last month which was critical of Surry officials for not responding to requests to split the cost.
Harris, the county commissioners’ chairman, said the lack of funding action at this week’s meeting should not be viewed as a stance that Surry considers Project Glow unworthy. “We’re going to give it a fair consideration.” he said.
“I have spoken with the county manager today (Tuesday),” Harris continued, “and we are going to bring that up at our next meeting (in August) and give it all due consideration.”
The county board chairman said one reason for the delay relates to his board’s work on another joint project with the city, to extend municipal sewer lines to the area where interstates 77 and 74 converge. “That has, in all honesty, probably overshadowed Project Glow,” Harris said.
But he said the interstates project does indicate the county’s commitment in partnering with Mount Airy and other Surry municipalities on efforts benefiting all. “It’s incumbent on all of us to work together.”
A skeptic might point out that last month’s move by Mount Airy officials to move ahead with funding the gas project regardless of what the county government did is motivation for the latter not to allocate money.
Harris bristled at this suggestion.
“I don’t do business that way, and I don’t think the other (county) commissioners do, either,” he said.
Natural gas is needed so Andrew Pearson Design, a tenant of the industrial park, can implement new equipment and processes dependent on that type of energy to shape glass products. This will enable the company to expand to new markets and hire eight more people initially.
Research by Frontier Natural Gas to determine other potential customers in Westwood Industrial Park revealed that L.S. Starrett Co. also would utilize that energy source, along with Renfro Corp. to heat its large warehouse there.
Since the industrial park was developed in the 1980s, it has missed out on possible tenants due to lack of natural gas access, a local economic-development official has said, but its availability could lure others there.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.