Use natural gas line or lose it, Fortis tells couple

Floyd and Trish Stolle feel they are being bullied into having an inactive natural gas line removed from their property by Fortis B.C.

Floyd Stolle kneels where a Fortis B.C. worker marked where a gas line is to be removed.

Floyd Stolle kneels where a Fortis B.C. worker marked where a gas line is to be removed.

Floyd and Trish Stolle have lived happily in their 30-year-old Maple Ridge home for five years, but are now feeling bullied into having an inactive natural gas line removed from their property by Fortis B.C.

Three years ago, due to overwhelming heating costs, the couple decided to discontinue natural gas services with Fortis B.C. until they could afford to use it again in the future. They had decided to use the home’s electric heating system instead to save money.

Even after cancelling their natural gas services, they were being charged $35 a month for maintenance and upkeep on a service they weren’t using; so they decided to cancel their account.

They paid their final bill in April 2008 and never heard back from the gas company until a few months ago, when they received a letter from Fortis B.C., recommending they use the natural gas line or risk having it removed.

Then last week a Fortis B.C. employee came to their property and marked the yard and driveway with spray paint for the removal of the gas line. He told the couple’s neighbour the property would be dug up in a matter of days, but did not provide a date or time.

Fortis B.C. typically sends out two notification letters, five months apart, before dispatching a line removal crew. But the Stolles insist they received just one, and it didn’t specify a date or time, either.

They were later told the unused line poses a safety risk, but the situation could be averted if they would continue paying the $35 monthly maintenance fee.

“What bothers me most is that they are actually going out of their way to remove this line,” Floyd Stolle said. “The only reason I can think of is that they are trying to bully me into paying $35 a month for a service I no longer use.”

“We had the gas meter shut off and there were no safety issues for three years. I’d just like them to leave the line in there. Like I said, one day I would like to be hooked up on gas again.”

The line hasn’t been removed as of yet, but in the future if the Stolles want to convert back to natural gas they would be responsible for putting in a new line themselves, which could cost $500 to $1,500.

“I’m absolutely dumbfounded because they said they would replace it with a new line, but then why were we paying for upgrades and maintenance? This makes no sense at all,” Trish Stolle said. “We’ve lived here for five years and there’s never been any kind of maintenance or upkeep done on the line.”

The Stolles feel as though they have no options left. “Our backs are against the wall and we don’t like feeling like that. Why would we be paying money for something that’s been sitting cold for three years? I don’t like being forced into something. Money is already tight for people and this just feels like a money grab.”

Fortis B.C. is following company protocol.

“What happens is if the gas line hasn’t been used in more than two years, it’s considered inactive and so we send out a series of letters to notify the customer that, as a safety precaution, we need to take it out,” said Marcus Wong of Fortis B.C.

“If the customer still chooses to not use the gas, then we proceed with removing the gas line.

“The removal is to prevent any potential damage as a result of construction or digging. It’s also in compliance with provincial safety regulations.”

Wong added that once a gas line has been removed, the company restores the area to its original condition with no added costs to the homeowner.