Last updated: June 18. 2014 4:07PM - 578 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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Faced with a need to proceed with an extension of natural gas to a Mount Airy industrial park, city officials have decided to go it alone without funding help from Surry County.

The availability of natural gas at Westwood Industrial Park in northwest Mount Airy will allow a company there, Andrew Pearson Design, to expand and add eight jobs. However, the presence of that energy source also could lure other industrial tenants there as well as serve additional companies in the park, officials say.

Construction of the 8,800-foot line is estimated to cost $320,000, with Frontier Natural Gas, the energy supplier, 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.

That still leaves a funding shortfall of $95,000, including a 25 percent local match for the state grant. Since discussion began on the natural gas extension — dubbed “Project Glow” — Mount Airy officials have discussed partnering with the county on the expense.

This typically is done with economic-development projects in the city, which also offer benefits to the county due to the extra tax revenues that stand to be generated for both localities along with employment opportunities for Surry residents.

But in this case, the joint effort did not materialize.

A resolution the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will consider during a meeting today at 7 p.m. states that despite a request to the county government to share the cost 50/50, “Surry County has never responded.”

Due to the fact that the construction of the gas line must begin in 2014 — or the state grant will be withdrawn — the city must now move ahead on its own. The resolution to be considered tonight calls for Mount Airy to fund the total sum needed of $95,000.

County Responds

Several reasons were cited Wednesday for Surry’s lack of funding assistance by Eddie Harris, the chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, who did not rule out its participation in the natural gas project.

“I don’t know that the county’s taken a firm position on that yet,” Harris said. “I know that we’ve taken it under advisement.”

The county board chairman also said the county has “had kind of a full plate as of late,” with other projects captivating its attention — such as the extension of sewer service to areas near where interstates 77 and 74 converge. Work on the Surry budget for 2014-2015 has been another focus, Harris said.

But he added that partnering with the city on the natural gas project is not off the table.

“And I think the county will probably take another look at this, probably in our July meeting.”

Harris said his board recognizes the investment value of partnering with Mount Airy and other municipalities in Surry on mutually beneficial projects to promote economic growth. He mentioned one recent effort with the town of Elkin, involving the extension of sewer service to an undeveloped site near Pittsburgh Glass Works.

The natural gas project will offer an immediate job-creation benefit due to a plan by Andrew Pearson Design to power new equipment for its proposed expansion. The need for natural gas by that company is termed “critical” since the expansion depends on it, according to a city government memo.

Andre Pearson Design will invest about $377,000 in new processing equipment that will allow it to expand and produce new products for sales in additional markets.

Eight buildings now located in Westwood Industrial Park are said to be potential users of natural gas, which is presently needed by three of those.

Timbering Plan

Among other business at tonight’s meeting, the city commissioners are slated to discuss another matter related to Westwood Industrial Park.

It involves a plan to harvest timber from a section of the city-owned park, an issue last discussed by officials during the winter but which has been dormant since.

A need for a cleared, graded spot has been identified at the park to help attract a new company, since prime sites in local industrial parks have been taken. This would require cutting timber on a 102-acre tract at the end of Boggs Drive.

Officials have discussed using proceeds from the timber sales to help offset the cost of developing a graded site, or possibly even a shell building. A forestry official says that valuable trees are being lost to age and other factors and the city is losing money by letting the timber languish.

However, residents of the area expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on wildlife and additional aspects of the environment, along with other issues, during a public hearing in February.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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