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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


OPA board ‘no comment’ as Sandpiper standstill continues

(Jan. 29, 2015) Sandpiper Energy converted Berlin infrastructure from propane to natural gas in 2014 and now the company is nearing completion of similar upgrades in West Ocean City.
Systems in Ocean Pines, however, remain in limbo as the company and community officials continue to struggle to reach an agreement.
“The negotiations are ongoing,” Jim Moore, director of natural gas distribution for Sandpiper parent company Chesapeake Utilities, said. “We’re confident at some point we’re all going to reach an agreement. It’s just taking some time, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.
“We’re confident everybody is trying to act in the best interest of who they’re representing, and I’m confident at some point that we’ll reach an agreement that’s acceptable to everybody,” Moore continued.
Several members of the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors declined to comment on the negotiations.
Moore, meanwhile, admitted to his frustration.
“When you get into these sort of things everyone has their own perspective,” he said. “You try to reach some sort of point where everyone can find agreement. Sometimes it just takes time. It’s kind of self-defeating if you get too worked up about it.”
At odds, the community is asking for repayment of legal fees, a turnover agreement, and a franchise fee to offset Sandpiper’s likely imposing of footage fees.
“The whole process relates to reaching an agreement between Sandpiper and the Ocean Pines Association as it relates to rights of ways and things of that nature,” Moore said. “Whether you call it a franchise agreement or something else, it’s all related to coming to some kind of reasonable agreement as to the relative value of the proposition for all the parties involved.
“We’re happy to negotiate the terms of the agreement,” Moore continued. “We continue to do that, but each one of us – every party at the table – has to try to look out for the interests of everyone involved and we’re trying to do that. I’m sure that the OPA is doing that as well, from their perspective.”
Meanwhile, at least one amenity has changed propane suppliers from Sandpiper to Sharp Energy, another subsidiary of Chesapeake, and several more could be on the way.
“I don’t know that it impacts [negotiations],” Moore said. “It doesn’t really change the objective. Our objective is to reach an agreement to provide natural gas service and that’s what we’re pursuing.
“We feel that if we can reach an agreement on that then the customers that are on propane will gradually change over to natural gas,” Moore continued. “If there is some customer attrition as a result as we’re going through the process, we feel like, long-term, that natural gas will be a choice that the customers will make.”
Sandpiper originally hoped to convert existing Ocean Pines pipelines to natural gas following upgrades in Berlin, but the company moved on to West Ocean City after talks stalled.
“We’re continuing with our conversions in West Ocean City,” Moore said. “It’s on schedule. We just went in a slightly different direction. What we’re doing now we might have been doing a little later, and if we get that done and reach an agreement with Ocean Pines we’ll turn in that direction.
“It just changes your timetable,” Moore said. “If it delays beyond where we would like to start in that direction, it’ll just change our timetable. It doesn’t necessarily chance the overall strategy. There’s different ways to approach it and that’s what we’ll do.”
Moore still expects to reach a deal with Ocean Pines.
“We’re not really looking at [moving on from Ocean Pines],” he said. “We do still believe that we’re very close to pulling something together, so we’re not really making contingency plans along that line at this point.”