Columbus Gas of Ohio is prohibited from terminating service to German Village residents who oppose the current meter-relocation project or have not yet responded to the company's request for access to those meters.
That decision was made Aug. 7 by Sarah Parrot, attorney examiner of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
"We are beyond pleased with the actions of the PUCO," said Nancy Kotting, historic-preservation advocate for the German Village Society, which has been fighting Columbia Gas' gas-meter relocation efforts.
It is the latest development in the monthslong dispute between the society and Columbia Gas, which is in the process of moving the gas meters from the interior to the exterior of properties for safety and convenience, company officials have maintained.
Society leaders contend that moving the meters outdoors would be unsafe and that meters on the exterior of buildings in public view violate national preservation standards.
"I think it is a step in the right direction," Kotting said of PUCO's recent judgment. "And I think it is extremely important that residents can feel comfortable knowing that they will not lose gas service if they choose to refuse to let Columbia Gas of Ohio move their meter to the exterior of the property.
"Holding that over a resident's head when that resident is trying to do the right thing, keeping that meter indoors, puts our residents in a very difficult position," she said.
Kristin Begg, spokeswoman for Columbia Gas, wouldn't answer specific questions about the ruling but said, "For the vast majority of customers on this project, we have found outside meter locations that meet safety requirements and are acceptable to our customers. We will continue our work in German Village, and safety will always be our No. 1 priority."
PUCO has scheduled a settlement conference for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the offices of the commission, 180 E. Broad St., downtown.
"It is an opportunity for the parties to sit down and try to settle the case," said Matthew Schilling, PUCO spokesman. "If they can't come to an agreement, then the case will be set for a hearing at a later date."
Both the society and Columbia Gas officials said they intend to send representatives to the meeting.
Columbus Gas' current gas-line-replacement effort affecting 112 residential and business customers in the northwest corner of the historic district, should be wrapped up in September. Columbia Gas officials said the long-term goal is to move all interior gas meters outside throughout the state.
Parrot's ruling further stated customers must continue to pay for services provided by Columbia and the utility may disconnect service for nonpayment.
"Further, the attorney examiner finds that if Columbia determines that disconnection to any such customer is necessary in order to prevent or resolve a presently or imminently hazardous situation that is unrelated to the subject of the pending complaint, the company may disconnect service to that customer," the ruling said. "Columbia shall file notice of such disconnection and an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the disconnection in this docket within three calendar days of the disconnection."