Columbia Gas of Ohio officials have held firm to their position that a current line-replacement project would result in the relocation of all natural-gas meters from the inside to the exterior of properties in German Village.

Yet, May 24, a spokeswoman for the public utility left the door open -- if ever so slightly -- to some of the meters remaining indoors.

"It's situational: a home-by-home, customer-by-customer basis," said Kelli Nowinsky, spokeswoman for Columbia Gas of Ohio.

The company has begun work on line replacement in the historic district, affecting 112 residential and business properties.

Nowinsky said the relocations are based on safety -- not aesthetics or German Village's historic nature.

"Our No. 1 focus is the safety of our customers," Nowinsky said. "We are working with each customer to identify the safest location for their meter, and in most cases that location will be outside.

"Moving meters to outside locations enhances the safety of our system and is in compliance with state and federal regulations," she said.

"While we acknowledge the aesthetic concerns of the German Village Society, aesthetics should not compromise safety."

Nowinsky wouldn't speculate about how many meters might remain indoors during the current project or in the village overall. The original plan calls for all of the meters to move outdoors eventually.

The German Village Society's fight against the relocation of natural-gas meters intensified May 22, when society officials filed a formal complaint against Columbia Gas with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

A request for a temporary restraining order against Columbia Gas to stop it from proceeding with its work also was filed May 22 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. As of May 26, a judge had not ruled on the issue.

In a related move, the society has asked PUCO for an expedited ruling because the gas company already has begun the project.

"The proposed relocation of meters to the outside has the potential to create hazards to residents, businesses and tourism in German Village via the exposure of meters to weather extremes, automobile traffic and potential vandalism," the formal complaint said.

"None of these risks currently exist for meters located inside of the village's historic structures."

The complaint also said, "Finally, the current, proposed configuration will significantly diminish the important, limited outdoor and sidewalk space.

"This is an unnecessary consequence that, along with the other consequences introduced above, will produce irreparable harm to the GVS, the village and the villagers, and undermine more than five decades of consistent, dedicated effort to restore and maintain the village's nationally recognized, unique and historic charm."

Columbia Gas said the move also is more convenient for first responders and residents, who don't need to coordinate with public-utilities workers on routine maintenance.

Nancy Kotting, the German Village Society's historic preservation advocate, said neither federal and state laws nor rules from PUCO show preference on locating gas meters.

Federal law, however, does insist that meters be protected from corrosion and other damage, including a vehicular strike, Kotting said.

"If you go to the corner of Lazelle and Frankfort (streets) -- meters are on the northwest corner -- you tell me if those are protected from vehicular damage," she said.

Matthew Schilling, a spokesman with PUCO, said Columbia Gas has 20 days from May 22 to file an answer -- either agreeing or disagreeing with the society's complaint.

If Columbia Gas disagrees with the complaint, PUCO will provide a settlement opportunity to both sides, Schilling said.

If both sides fail to reach an accord, the matter will go to a hearing, he said.

So the issue could take months to resolve, he said.

"It's just really up in the air," Schilling said.

Paul Schrader, who lives on City Park Avenue, where gas lines were being replaced last week, said he supports the society in its fight against moving the meters to the exterior of properties.

Schrader said his gas meter already was on the exterior of his house when he moved there in 1980, but he supports his neighbors in the effort.

"I don't want meters being stuck on the street side so you can see them," Schrader said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary