Official: CNG will stay in Clarksburg
by Troy Graham
Hope Gas Co. and CNG Transmission will stay in Clarksburg.
That's the first issue that Ron Adams wanted to
make clear following the announcement that Consolidated Natural Gas Co.,
the parent company of Hope and CNG Transmission, will be bought out by
Dominion Resources Inc., a Virginia power company. "We're in this building
and we'll stay in this building," said Adams, a CNG senior vice president
who came to Clarksburg from Pittsburgh Monday. Despite his assurances,
Adams could offer few specifics on the impact the deal would have on the
500 to 600 employees here who work for CNG Transmission and Hope Gas Co.
In a press release, the companies said they expect
"minimal workforce reductions as a result of this merger." But greater
efficiency and the reduction of duplicate services were selling points
of the deal. Adams said he had no specifics on what areas of the
companies could be targeted for reductions or where services duplicate.
"I can't elaborate in any detail," Adams said.
A transition team of two CNG and two Dominion officials,
which has been set up to implement the merger, will look into those
details over the next year. Employees said there was some concern about
the future, but the mood was business as usual around the office Monday.
"It could have been worse" if another gas company bought CNG, said one
employee. "Time will tell." "We have a track record of treating employees
fairly and equitably and that will continue," said Dominion Chairman Tom
Dominion, the parent company of Virginia Power,
is mainly an energy company that has few similarities to CNG's natural
gas operations, Adams said. Although Dominion has a 50-employee natural
gas production operation in Jane Lew, there is "not much overlap" between
the companies, he said.
Under the terms of the deal, Dominion will buy all
of CNG's stock, converting each share into 1.52 shares of Dominion stock.
CNG stockholders will own 43 percent of the combined company.
The company, which will use the Dominion Resources
name, will be the nation's fourth largest electric and gas utility, serving
4 million customers. The company will have $23.9 billion in assets and
Capps described the deal as a "marriage truly made
in Heaven" that will create "one gorilla of a company." Dominion wanted
to strengthen its company through a merger and CNG "was the prettiest gal
at the ball." Officials anticipate that it will take a year to fully integrate
the two companies and receive all the necessary state and federal approvals.
The companies must also receive shareholder approval.
CNG Chairman George Davidson said one of the advantages
of the deal was that the companies have a similar management structure.
CNG restructured its management in December, but Adams said it was not
done in anticipation of the deal. "We restructured back in December as
a stand alone enterprise," he said.
The restructuring will result in layoffs of 5 percent of CNG's employees
Ñ a greater impact on the workforce than the merger, Adams said.
CNG officials have long denied a merger or sale
was in the works. In a Nov. 30 letter to a union representing CNG employees,
the company said it was not seeking a deal. Adams said Monday that there
were no "detailed discussions" at that time. "As with any company today,
there's always talk among companies about 'what if,'" he said.
Analysts see the combining of the gas and power
companies as the beginning of a trend. An almost identical merger also
took place Monday on the West Coast. Sempra Energy, a San Diego power company,
bought out the stock of KN Energy, a Colorado gas company.
"I'm not surprised. I think we'll see a lot more,"
said Timothy W. Merrill, the president of Competitive Energies Strategies
Co. "It reflects that people see things going in the same direction." Deregulation
of energy companies across the nation has made competition more fierce,
"Overall the major drivers are competition and restructuring,"
said Merrill, a Pittsburgh-based consultant. "The economies of scale are
much different than under the old regulatory models we had for 125 years."
Dave Ellis, the director of the Utilities Division of the state Public
Service Commission, described the mergers as a sort of "one-stop shopping"
for energy consumers.
The state PSC must approve the merger. Ellis said
he expects a significant filing on the combined company's finances, operations
and organization in the coming months. Gov. Cecil Underwood was briefed
on the merger by CNG officials Sunday night, said Spokesman Dan Page. "It's
too early to tell right now what direct effect this will have on West Virginia,"
It's also too early to tell what effect the merger
will have on the PSC's inquiry into the December CNG restructuring.
The PSC held a hearing with top CNG management last month to discuss the
move. The commission had planned to rule on whether CNG must seek the commission's
approval to restructure its management. "At this point, I don't know if
they'll put that inquiry on hold," Ellis said. The PSC does expect the
combined company to live up to a three-year rate freeze that Hope Gas agreed
to last year, he said.
CNG officials also said they will live up to a contract
agreement ratified by the Allegheny Mountain Gas Workers' Union late last
year. The contract calls for "effects bargaining" in case of a sale or
Union officials said Monday it was too early to
tell what steps they would take, but all four CNG unions had a meeting
planned for today with management in Pittsburgh. "We're going into it with
an open mind and with a positive attitude," said Bryan Ash, the vice president
of the gas workers' union.
Plans for facelift presented to council
by Paul Leakan
Clarksburg city officials were presented with a $9
million strategic plan for the downtown Monday that consultants believe
could give the area a facelift without destroying its integrity.
The plan to develop the downtown is not a 'bulldozer'
approach, a method of revitalization where cities demolish buildings in
order to promote development, said David C. Slater, vice president of Hammer,
Siler, George Associates of Silver Spring, Md. "What we're doing here is
more sensitive to the cultural resources of the community," Slater said.
The plan, which was prepared by Hammer, Siler, George
Associates and MSES Consultants of Clarksburg, takes advantage of the recent
development in the area while improving what is already in the city, Slater
The plan recommends restoring the city's rich architectural
history by exploring the possibility of developing the Waldomore building
into a cultural center or museum. The old city hall building could also
be marketed and developed.
The plan, however, also recommends that dozens of blighted houses and
buildings be purchased by the city and demolished. It also seeks to add
several construction projects, additional parking areas, more pedestrian-friendly
sidewalks and intersections and improved lighting. Members of the Clarksburg
City Council were presented with the plan during a 10 a.m. conference session
Monday in the Municipal Building.
A major portion of the downtown plan seeks to make
Clarksburg more pedestrian-friendly. More rest benches would be installed
near bus stops and retail businesses. Certain existing sidewalks would
be demolished and replaced with new curbs and sidewalks.
New light poles are also being recommended for several
areas of the downtown. The plan recommends, for example, the installation
of 29 light poles along West Main Street from Chestnut Street to E.B. Saunders
Way. The plan also would add five traffic lights to the same area. The
city's parking woes could be lessened by a proposed addition of 108 parking
Residents would have a place to relax at a proposed green space located
in an area between South Third Street and South Fourth Street on Trader's
The green space would include a grass and brick
area with planters, walking areas and a center clock tower with four faces.
A 61-space parking lot would be installed next to it.
Another green space is proposed near Washington
and Irving Middle School area on Washington and Lee Avenues.
The plan also proposes three walking trails that would allow people
to traverse through the downtown and its surroundings. The trail, the exact
location of which was not indicated, would be ranked according to its degree
While council showed its support for much of the
plan, they also showed concern for how the city will be able to afford
The total cost for recommendations in the plan range from $9.4 million
to $9.6 million.
Council members said they likely will discuss the parts of the plan
they will support, how money can be secured for the projects and how they
can put some of the plan into action.
"It's a very ambitious plan," said Councilwoman
Kathy Folio. "The challenges, of course, are financial. "If we want
to go forward with this we have to be very judicious with how we spend
the city's tax dollars."
Announcement source of relief for business owners
by Paul Leakan
The announcement that Consolidated Natural Gas Co.
planned a press conference Monday morning had Clarksburg residents, business
owners and city officials gasping in anticipation. The question? CNG Transmission
and Hope Gas in Clarksburg: Will they stay or will they go? The answer?
CNG will merge with Dominion Resources Inc. of Virginia to form the nation's
fourth largest electric and gas utility.
And according to CNG and Dominion officials, the
merger will not lead to any job cuts in Clarksburg in the short term.
The merger allowed several business owners and officials from the city
and county to let loose a collective sigh of relief. Simply put, CNG and
Hope Gas are way too important to lose.
The rumors about CNG leaving the city spread faster
than butter on hot bread at the Country Kitchen restaurant in Clarksburg.
"Everybody has been wondering whether they would leave or not," said manager
Cookie Salerno. "There's a lot of people that come in here and don't know
whether they'll have a job from one day to the next."
The reassurance from Dominion officials that CNG
Transmission and Hope Gas in Clarksburg will remain an important part of
the combined company was good news to Salerno. After all, employees of
the gas company provide a huge chunk of her business.
"They're just our regulars, really. Between them
and people who work at the banks, that's most of our business."
Luella Wolford, manager at T&L Hot Dogs in Clarksburg, hopes that
CNG Transmission and Hope Gas stay in the city for good. Wolford estimates
that about 12 to 15 employees from either company eat lunch at T&L
The stakes are also high for the United Way of Harrison
County, which receives its largest contributions from CNG.
"They are far and away the largest corporate contributor," said Ken
Moslander, executive director of the Harrison County United Way.
CNG donated more than $40,000 to the United Way
of Harrison County in 1998, Moslander said. The next closest contributor,
UCAR, donated more than $14,000.
Harrison County would also take a 'major hit' if
it were to lose CNG Transmission and Hope Gas, said Ray Farley, executive
director of the Harrison County Development Authority. "It would be extremely
difficult for North Central West Virginia to replace those 600 jobs if
they left because those are high-skill, high-paying jobs."
The fear that CNG would leave never crossed the
mind of Bob Caplan, executive director of the Harrison County Chamber of
Commerce. "I have always felt all along that they would keep their presence
here in Clarksburg. I never had that fear that they would pull out."
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms, a former CNG Transmission
president, said he was not surprised by the merger. "With all the changes
going on in the utility industry, you're going to have to deal with whatever
change comes. The best thing that we can hope for right now is that Dominion
will make a stronger company, and that strength will come with even more
stability and employment."