WATAUGA — Frontier Natural Gas is looking to expand its services in Watauga and Ashe counties during the next five years, according to General Manager Fred Steele.

Frontier — certified by the N.C. Utilities Commission — operates out of Elkin and serves six different counties, Steele said. He and two other Frontier representatives approached the Watauga County Commissioners on April 2 to discuss the company's plans for expansion. Steele said Frontier is required by the NCUC Pipeline Safety division to reach out to public officials and educate them on their services.

Steele said Frontier currently services less than 40 percent of Watauga County, and sees it as one of the areas with the most growth potential.

In the coming fiscal year, Steele said Frontier has plans for about five natural gas projects in Watauga. These include Dogwood Knoll Road in Stony Fork, Kellwood Drive in Boone, N.C. 105 Bypass to the Watauga campus of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Eastbrook Drive in Boone and the Poplar Hill area.

Kim Foley, a sales associate with Frontier, said she would go door to door to places in project areas to notify people of the projects about a month before work would start.

Following the commissioners meeting, Steele met with County Manager Deron Geouque to discuss the possibility of extending a line to the Watauga County Detention Center. This project would be a “huge benefit to the county,” Geouque said.

Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils are places Frontier would like to reach in its long-term plan, Steele said. Frontier is planning to work on gaining additional gas supply in order to expand into those areas.

“We’ve been having meetings with pipelines since late last year and we’re going to continue to have those meetings in an effort to come up with ways to get to those unserved areas currently,” Steele said.

These projects can range anywhere from $300,000 to $1.5 million per project, Steele said. He said 90 percent of these projects are being funded by Frontier Natural Gas. Each project is looked at under a feasibility model as required by NCUC. Steele said if the project doesn’t pass the model, Frontier speaks with the particular individual or customer about what it calls “contribution in aid of construction.”

Once a feasibility model is completed and the project passes, Frontier staff come up with engineering plans, apply for project permits, acquire land easements and then start the construction process.

Jeff Whitaker, working in materials/purchasing with Frontier, told commissioners he offers a two-hour training to first responders and emergency officials on how to safely respond to a situation with natural gas. Whitaker said part of the presentation is 811 awareness to warn people that they should call officials before digging in an area in case a gas line is near.

Steele said any groups of people who would like to receive this training are able to call Frontier and set up a time to do so.

Frontier is partnering with Appalachian State University and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce for an event on May 10 before the App State baseball game. Steele said Frontier plans to bring maps of its project areas to gauge community interest, and plans to buy refreshments for visitors.

Steele said now is a great time for people to do conversions to natural gas as the price of the fuel is trending downward. He said it typically costs less than propane and electric.

Steele urged community members who are seriously interested in learning more about getting natural gas to their area to reach out to (336) 526-2690. For more information on Frontier Natural Gas, visit www.huinc.net/our-companies/frontier-natural-gas/.

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