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Residents win award for gas-meter fight

Preserve Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Rhode Island's historic structures, awarded local politicians and community members an award Oct. 29 for their role in a legislative battle against the utility company National Grid's decision to place gas meters outside of historic homes.

The group awarded the John H. Chafee Public Service Award to City Councilman John Lombardi, D-Ward 13, State Senator Paul Jabour, D-Dist. 5, State Representative Steven Costantino, D-Dist. 8, community member Jessica Jennings and the West Broadway Neighborhood Association as part of its annual state-wide Rhody Awards.

Preserve Rhode Island gives out the Rhody Awards jointly with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. "The awards are about preserving a sense of place and connecting people to the historic structures around them," said Susanna Prull, a preservation services representative for Preserve Rhode Island.

"We recognize homeowners for restoration projects on private homes, recognize larger developers who use historic tax credits to revitalize older buildings downtown, recognize skilled craftspeople and artisans — all the people that make preservation happen," she added.

"It's an honor and a privilege to receive an award like that," Lombardi said. "People recognize you for preserving the historical significance of any neighborhood."

Kari Lang, who has been executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association for fifteen years, said the organization is "thrilled and honored" to receive the award. "For a group of neighbors to actually get legislation passed with the help of the elected officials is quite an exciting thing," she said.

Lang added that the law against the gas meters will set a precedent for future preservation cases. "Rhode Island is one of the first, but this situation is occurring in other states too, and they may mimic our legislation," she said.

The fight started last summer, when National Grid began to relocate gas meters in one area of western Providence without the property owners' express permission. Prull said that, in some cases, "these were homes that the owners had been restoring over several years."

As Lombardi describes it, the community began to "do (its) homework" and discovered that in other parts of the state, utility companies had given owners the opportunity to decide whether they wanted their gas meters relocated.

"It's about having one set of rules," he said, "and making those rules public so we can play by the same set."

Lombardi said the gas meter relocation was too invasive.

"Imagine going home tonight and seeing a steel chair attached to the side of your house and a pipe hanging out of your sidewalk," he said. "What's more, someone trampled your flowers and your grass and in front of that there's a patch of asphalt."

Together with Jabour and Costantino, Lombardi successfully passed legislation that requires all public utility companies in the state to consult property owners before moving any gas meters.

"We prevailed," Lombardi said, comparing the case to the story of David and Goliath. "It was nice, a sense of accomplishment, and done in an energetic, professional, consensus-building way — at least as it applied to us."



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