PNG, Union butt heads over winter digging

PINEDALE – The Sublette County Board of Commissioners were approached with a no-dig request from Pinedale Natural Gas during its meeting on Dec. 21. The request, an unconventional one brought to commissioners, was made because the utility company was starting to butt heads with Union Wireless – who has been digging to install fibre-optic cable in Pinedale since the summer.

Coincidentally, representatives from Union Wireless were at the meeting, making the second consecutive commissioners’ meeting after a long discussion on the morning of Dec. 7. So they heard each other’s issues.

It was explained of the dire consequences if a gas line is hit during the winter. After locating the issue, a crew would initially defrost the service spot, excavate the gas line and dig 3 feet to repair the gas line break, as well as purge air from the section so it’s pure gas that flows through. However, at that point, that leaves gas lines with only about 24 hours’ worth of gas pressure. Because of repair times, all customers could be without gas heating for days after. That includes county entities, schools, businesses and residences.

That’s why, as Steve Shute of Pinedale Natural Gas explained, the request was made. “You have to turn off gas to every single riser,” he said. “You have to restore service to 1,800 risers and check pilot lights.”

There haven’t been any recent incidents of Union Wireless hitting a Pinedale Natural Gas line during its digs, but there was an instance in the summer where a PNG tracer wire was hit and left.

It was also brought up that when Union representatives request a location for PNG lines, it’s a blanket request of hundreds of locations and some digs aren’t done until months later. That’s where a large portion of PNG frustrations came in, Cory Ralkey of PNG said.

Tony Kelly of Union Wireless apologized for those frustrations. He said he was not made aware of the trace wire hit or the frustrations from Pinedale Natural Gas. Kelly said they could continue to do certain work in the winter but to altogether stop digging would delay progress on installation dramatically.

Commissioners stepped in. Tom Noble cited Shute, who previously said they can locate and account for 90 percent of lines, that if they can’t account for where lines are that would be an engineering issue. Noble said he’s worked to increase broadband in his years on the board, a large-scale endeavor that was powered largely by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Both companies provide public utilities and benefit the community, commissioners said. Chair Joel Bousman said that both companies could work it out since upper management from both companies were present. Commissioners said a no-dig order was not an option because of all the utilities in the county that rely on digging.

That discussion ended with the two companies getting together in the courthouse hallway to exchange information and get on the same page.

Cemetery talks

Members of the Upper Green River Cemetery District, including Renne Reed, asked the commissioners to change the deeds on cemeteries in Cora, Silver Creek and Daniel from the county. That wasn’t much of an issue, although the deed on the Daniel

cemetery is in unknown possession. The last know entity overseeing the cemetery is no longer in existence. Commissioners ultimately granted that request. It was determined that the cemetery district would be responsible for insurance on its buildings and equipment as of the next renewal date on April 1.

District members also mentioned to the board of commissioners that they are in talks with the Town of Pinedale for inevitable expansion of the Pinedale Cemetery.

Space in the Pinedale Cemetery is running out, with double the amount of plots sold this past year. At the current rate, all the plots in the cemetery will be purchased within the next two years.

“If you want to be buried in Pinedale, you better hurry up,” Reed said.

There are talks of five additional acres being freed north of where the critical access hospital is planned for construction. Of those five, it was said three would be available for development, opening up 200 plots to buy some time.

An email from Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock explained the history of the cemetery and its policies. After reading that email during the meeting, Chair Bousman suggested the cemetery district and town meet with commissioners to discuss the best path forward.

Other items:

• Commissioners approved a transfer of funds during the meeting. These were proposed budget adjustments to compensate for purchases or revenue throughout the year that were not on the initial budget. A total of $91,900 for former Road & Bridge vehicles sold at an auction were moved to a depreciation account for budget reserves. There were $609,621.83 left in the fire warden’s budget at the end of last year so that was moved to the fire reserve capital budget. There was the budget error in someone’s salary that was corrected by just over $8,000. Planning & Zoning hired a new employee and had its budget supplemented $44,360.08 for that. Exactly $5,000 was moved out of the visitor’s center fund to pay for a documentary film. Finally, $87,594 was received through Enviromedial rent payments that were transferred to economic development.

• Redistricting continues, with three possible options. Two of them would keep Sublette County whole while the third, which is unlikely to gain enough support, would take 94 voters out of Sublette County from the south.

• Commissioners agreed that Sublette County would join the ongoing opioid settlement after it was determined nearly $200,000 would go to the county for improvements in drug treatment, prevention and intervention.

• Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich said delegation agreements have been reached with the Sublette County Hospital District regarding Public Health and Veterans Services offices. Commissions said they’d once again send a letter of support, along with a preference for payment on a loan, to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Lorraine Werner, who contacted the board. District administrator Dave Doorn said they don’t need that preference now, as the loan committee in Washington, D.C. is expected to rule on the loan application for a critical access hospital in January. He also cleared up rumors, which Commissioner Doug Vickrey wanted to address. Doorn said the new medical director of clinics Dr. David Burnett was hired for $2,000 for each clinic per month.