FREMONT -- Officials in Fremont face an uphill battle in fostering growth and expansion, mainly because no natural gas lines currently run through the the northern Wayne County town.
Mayor Darron Flowers and town administrator Barbara Aycock first spoke on the topic at a meeting of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee in July. Flowers said that bringing natural gas to Fremont is vital to making the town attractive to businesses.
"Natural gas encourages economic development, it's a cheap source of heating," he said. "There's none of it in Fremont or in northern Wayne County at all."
Access to gas could draw large manufacturing companies to the area.
Crystal Gettys, president of the Wayne County Development Alliance, said that things typically work in the opposite order. Gas companies will not usually build a connecting pipe in the hopes that a business will spring up to take advantage of it. Instead, providers prefer to wait until a heavy gas user communicates its intent to move to a new area.
"My experience is that a gas company will not put a line where there is not a heavy gas user in the area," she said. "If you, for instance, had a heavy user in another area announce plans to open up in an area without gas, then they might have the incentive to build there."
This puts the town in a quandary -- no natural gas means large manufacturers are less likely to move there, but no large manufacturer means natural gas companies are unlikely to provide service.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a large natural gas line proposed to run from Pennsylvania and West Virgina down through Virginia and across eastern North Carolina, could potentially provide gas to the area. However, the pipeline is not expected to run through Wayne County.
Stacey Perrow, a spokesperson for Piedmont Natural Gas, said she was uncertain how much access local municipalities would have to natural gas from the ACP. When asked for a map of current Piedmont Natural Gas lines in Wayne County, Perrow said in an email that the company does not share that information with the public out of "an abundance of caution for safety purposes."
Fremont is in a prime location for business, Aycock said, because of its proximity to major roads like I-795. She pointed to the small town of Saratoga, in Wilson County, which has a Piedmont pipeline running through town, as an example of a small town having access to natural gas without major industry already in place.
Tommy Hawkins, mayor of Saratoga, said the line through his town was originally constructed in the 1950s, when gas was more expensive than oil.
Since then, it was extended to service some tobacco growers and the nearby Old Saratoga bottled water supplier, which Hawkins said was the only company in the area.
Lynn Holbrook, office manager at Old Saratoga, said the natural gas line was not taken into consideration when the company was built.
"We've been here 25 years. The owner of the company owned this land, the natural gas was not a part of (the reasons for choosing that location)," she said.
"They have hooked up some people over the years," he said. "There are more people in town without natural gas than with natural gas."
Hawkins said that the natural gas line in Saratoga does not impact the majority of the town. Gettys said that despite this situation there are still prospects for bringing business to Fremont and northern Wayne County.
"Even though the gas company may not run a line out there, that's not going to stop me from looking for things that would be a good (fit) for the area," she said. "That may end up being distributing, a large-scale distributor."