Carlisle Borough Council may join four other municipalities in a lawsuit against the Public Utilities Commission.
The council Thursday authorized the creation and advertisement of an ordinance that would allow the borough to enter into an intermunicipal agreement for litigation against the PUC regarding utility meter placement in the historic district.
“I think we did our best to work with the staff from PUC and UGI, and basically got nowhere with them,” Councilman Sean Shultz said.
Residents of the historic district came to the council last year with concerns over the placement of meters and regulators in front of their homes, many times without consulting the homeowner. In response, the borough council passed an ordinance in May 2017 limiting where gas meters can be placed.
The ordinance requires any new meter installations or relocations of older meters to be inside the building, and gives options to the utility to place it outside, out of public view as necessary. It also requires the utility company to notify the borough any time it is required by law to notify the homeowner about the installation or relocation of a meter. Violations of the ordinance could result in a $1,000 fine.
A copy of Lancaster’s ordinance and the related intermunicipal agreement indicates the lawsuit would challenge the enactment of PUC regulations that the municipalities find are contrary to the best interests of its residents and property owners.
Specifically, the municipalities are targeting Section 59.18 of the Pennsylvania Code that instructs that “unless otherwise allowed or required in this section, meters and regulators must be located outside and aboveground.”
That same section of the code allows a utility to consider placing a meter inside a building if it meets certain requirements including the structure location “within a locally designated historic district.”
Shultz said there had been a commitment at public meetings to provide study information and the data that led to the conclusions the utility had reached concerning the issue. He even filed a freedom of information act request for the information that was denied.
Lancaster and Columbia have approved ordinances to participate in the agreement. Information on the status of Allentown’s decision was not available at press time.
Reading has already been pursuing litigation against UGI on the same issue, but their participation in the agreement is critical as the ordinance passed by Lancaster indicates the agreement may only proceed if Reading also signs on.
The agreement states that the “municipalities find it in collective best interest of their residents, property owners, and citizens to cooperate in a coordinated challenge regulatory enactments,” and outlines the creation of a steering committee consisting of a representative from each of the municipalities to serve a two-year term.
That committee would have the sole authority to enter into litigation on behalf of the municipalities as well as to retain counsel and expert witnesses. It would also have the authority to end or settle the litigation, provided the municipalities approve any settlement that would require payments.
The litigation effort will be funded by a proportioned contribution from member municipalities. The population-based formula caps the contribution for Carlisle at $10,000.
UGI has been working on a project in the borough to replace its cast iron mains with new mains made of coated steel or high density polyethylene. The majority of cast iron mains have been removed from Carlisle, but there are projects that need to be done over the next 10 years.