Lake St. John Gas changes hands after 47 years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

LAKE ST. JOHN &045;&045; After 47 years of running the Lake St. John Gas company, Robert and Ruth Chennault have found someone else to take over the nonprofit co-op.

New company owner, Randy Shelton, said customers will not see rate increases and should see advances in customer service. Shelton, a Louisiana native who now lives in Texas, has been inspecting the company since 1989 according to Louisiana Pipeline Safety regulations as an independent contractor and purchased the company in December for the bargain price of $1.

Ruth Chennault said it is more of a transfer than a selling of the company since the company was a co-op, basically owned by the people on the system

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&045;&045; 135 customers on the lake’s west side.

&uot;We were glad to get him,&uot; Ruth Chennault said. &uot;No one else on the system wanted to take over and do it. It was just time for us to retire.

&uot;We are leaving it in good hands.&uot;

Shelton, who has owned a gas company in Texas before, has many local clients besides the Lake St. John company &045;&045; Harrisonburg, Chatham and Sicily Island. &uot;I’m pretty excited,&uot; Shelton said about buying the company, which is now registered as a small business.

Shelton said he will not change the name of the company and there will be no rate changes unless he can give customers a decrease.

The company’s rates are regulated by the Public Service Commission.

&uot;I plan on negotiating cheaper gas for this summer&uot; by seeking a cheaper source, Shelton said.

And he plans on expanding the company. We will &uot;hopefully be able to build an additional customer base,&uot; Shelton said.

When you &uot;supply a utility to them that is comparable with electric and propane and provide a good service with it, that kind of sells any utility,&uot; he said.

And customer service is his plan. Shelton already has hired two part-time employees that live at the lake, Darrell Lewis and Tommy Faulkner &045;&045; so they will be well known and accessible to the customers.

&uot;This way, when they call up we are going to be able respond with local guys,&uot; Shelton said.

Shelton said the company will have an 800 number for emergencies and billing information, and both employees will have pagers.

We are &uot;providing as much service as we can to the customer. Just like Mr. Robert and Mrs. Ruth have run it since the 1950s,&uot; Shelton said.

Bob and Ruth Chennault took over at the company in 1956 when the first rates were being charged

&045;&045; $3 per house for unlimited use. The price rose to $20 through the years for unlimited use.

In 1987, the state insisted the company put in new lines and meters, bringing it to its present-day system. The company had to take out a loan from the Federal Housing Administration to pay for the improvements. Ruth Chennault said the company finished paying the loan off last month.