The German Village Society spent $26,000 on attorney fees in its dispute with Columbia Gas of Ohio about the relocation of gas meters.

The two sides, which recently reached an accord over the relocation of the meters, have been slugging it out since May.

Shiloh Todorov, the society's executive director, said she believes it was money well spent.

"There's no question it was worth it," she said.

The agreement, released Sept. 29, states that any future placement of gas meters would be to the rear of properties if possible and Columbia Gas would work with the society on siting of the relocated meters.

The company will also paint meters and provide landscaping to improve aesthetics, as requested by customers, according to the pact.

Furthermore, Columbia Gas officials have agreed to help the society with its ongoing brick sidewalk-repair program, beyond what the company would be required to restore or upgrade as part of its current gas-line replacement efforts, the agreement states.

Todorov said $10,000 for the legal fees came from the society's general fund and $16,000 from its Good of the Neighborhood Fund. She said Oct. 13 the final bill had not yet been submitted.

"The (society's) board (of trustees), throughout this process with Columbia Gas, has had a laser focus on spending our money wisely," Todorov said.

"We have been fiscally responsible for many years, and so we were able to come from a position of financial strength.

"That was key as we made the decision to hire legal help to take on the biggest threat to the neighborhood in several decades," Todorov said.

It also might affect future projects, because Columbia officials have said the utility's goal is to relocate all gas meters from inside to the exterior of properties throughout the state. Its current project in German Village, affecting 112 residential and business customers, is coming to close.

The controversy started in March, when Columbia announced its plans to relocate meters.

Society officials quickly issued a preservation action alert, saying it was against the "potential adverse economic impact on the district" and citing safety issues.

Gas company officials countered that the exterior relocations would be safe and more convenient for the company and its customers.

That became the root of the argument for several months and at least one attempt at official mediation failed.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had set a hearing about the dispute for Nov. 13.

Bill Curlis resigned from the society board because of the issue in May, stating at the time he believed the society chose to "fight a losing battle" and was "spending money they don't have to fight that battle."

When told about the current legal fees Curlis said he was "aghast."

"I do not know what $26,000 bought, but it wasn't much," he said.

"They have damaged themselves so much in the eyes of the public and so much in the eyes of public figures that they now have the PUCO on record saying the German Village Society didn't represent anyone except themselves," Curlis said.

He was referring to the PUCO's attorney examiner, who noted in one of her reviews of the case that the "GVS may prosecute the complaint on its own behalf in its capacity as a customer of Columbia. With respect to other affected customers, GVS states in the complaint that several German Village residents have authorized GVS to represent their interests in this case... . However, it is not evident from the pleadings that these residents are also members of GVS, which is a prerequisite for GVS to even seek to establish its standing to bring the complaint on their behalf."

"So I'm not sure what they got out of this," Curlis said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary