The Winchester City Council continues to move forward with a lawsuit against Panhandle Eastern Pipeline despite mounting legal costs.
Panhandle Eastern transports natural gas to Winchester and several other surrounding communities. Winchester entered into a lawsuit with several other municipalities around the country after Panhandle raised their transport costs by 400%.
The city was initially quoted a cost of $7,000 for the legal fees in the case by law firm Day Pitney. Winchester Mayor Rex McIntire says that cost has now grown: “We eclipsed the $7,000 over the winter, and we have had a few fees since then. I think right now we are up to a little over $11,000 in what the legal fees amount to. I and two and three other members of the council were concerned about whether or not if we didn’t pay up and stay involved with the suit if we would reap the benefits once this thing was over. We had a special meeting last week and we went ahead and agreed to pay up the additional some $4,000 that we owed. That gets us paid in full and up to date.”
McIntire says the city believes it is necessary to stay involved in the suit so that they can recoup their legal costs but also eventually pass along any settlement money to the city’s utility customers: “What we are going to have to do is go back to when [the increase in delivery costs] started and calculate how much money was overcharged to our customers, and we would have to credit that back to our customers. Yes, we are going to take our legal fees out [of the settlement] first, of course, and we have to do that, but whatever is left over would go back to in respect to our customers.”
The city is expected to receive about $100,000 in the settlement. McIntire says a judge has already ruled in the 20-30 municipalities’ favor earlier in the year, but Panhandle Eastern is now going through the appeals process. McIntire says that the city’s gas manager, Utility Gas Management, believes that the suit will be concluded by the end of this year.