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Assoc. hoping to reignite talks with Sandpiper Energy

(June 4, 2015) The effort to strike a new deal between Sandpiper Energy and Ocean Pines has been slow, following the collapse of contract talks late last year, but the Ocean Pines Board of Directors is at least going to discuss what its next move might be.
The board members agreed last week to convene in closed session on Wednesday to discuss options and negotiating points and, presumably, whether to restart the conversation.
The essence of the contract is that Sandpiper would convert existing propane lines to handle natural gas, but beyond that one fundamental element, the parties have found little else on which to agree.
OPA board member Bill Cordwell asked for an update on the situation during a board meeting on March 28.
“Have we had any contact? [Are we] doing anything about it?” Cordwell asked OPA President Dave Stevens. “Time is churning on here.”
Stevens simply replied that, “Time is always churning on. The quick answer is that we haven’t. No.”
According to Stevens, the last time the two sides spoke, representatives from Ocean Pines provide Sandpiper with “several issues.”
The existing agreement, which dates back to Eastern Shore Gas, acquired by Sandpiper Parent Company Chesapeake Utilities in 2013, is still in place in the meantime, Stevens said.
“We are open … to renewing discussions, but at the present time Sandpiper has given us no reason to believe there’s any basis for discussions,” Stevens said.
Cordwell complained that residents were forced to pay “super-high gas bills” while talks remained at a standstill.
“We should be, as far as I’m concerned, proactive,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be sitting back saying, ‘Hey, come see us.”
According to Cordwell, General Manager Bob Thompson was handling the talks when, in December, the board of directors “got back involved,” leading to the current stalemate.
“I would like to see the general manager — and the general manager alone — contact Sandpiper, see if something can be done. If he can get an agreement, then good,” Cordwell said. “If he can’t get an agreement, then there’s no harm, no foul. But why are we sitting back?”
Board Treasurer Jack Collins, who objected to the notion that the board itself caused talks to break down, worried that Thompson might not “know the nuances” of the negotiations. He also balked at the idea that the general manager could act without the board.
“I’m just as frustrated with this as you are, Bill,” he said. “I think there’s a way around this, sure, and I think we should push the envelope … [but] to put him in the position to make unilateral decisions is not a good thing.”
Parliamentarian Tom Terry, who was part of the committee focused on negotiations, supported the idea of letting Thompson have another crack at Sandpiper.
“Reach out and find out if the other side even wants to dance at all,” he said. “I just think at this point for us to march the same three people back into the room and them march the same people back into a room — I am in favor of Bill’s idea. And it’s not saying to Bob, ‘you have all the authority’ …ultimately [the board] have to agree.”
Stevens agreed that it was time for the board to have a discussion on the matter, suggesting it hold a special meeting.
“It may have to be a closed discussion because whoever is going to go forward with this is going to have to go forward from a negotiating position,” he said. “It would better to [not be] a discussion in public for obvious reasons.”