Early in 1972, a few farmers in the Frisco district casually discussed the possibility of having natural gas supplied to their farms. They were well aware pipelines carrying natural gas were crossing their farms or in near proximity.
Upon inquiring to the provincial regulatory agency, Alberta Telephone and Utility Branch, they were handed a challenge. Instead of supplying gas to a small group of local users, the Utility Branch challenged them to begin a natural gas co-op that could potentially supply gas to a much larger user base, over a much greater geographic area. They became aware that other natural gas co-ops were taking root in various Alberta communities.
These men were up to the challenge. In the pioneer spirit they decided if the big utility companies did not want to consider them, they would just do it themselves. Rural distribution systems of both electricity and telephone were put into existence by farmers putting their shoulder to the wheel. If it could be done for phone and power, they felt there was no reason it would not work for the distribution of natural gas. After all the gas was already there beneath their feet, a few thousand feet down.
Meetings were held around farm kitchen tables. Maps were spread on the tables. Possible areas and boundaries were suggested. The challenges seemed endless. How were they to get the word out to such a big geographic area. They would require easements to access farmer's land. There would be roads, creeks, swamps and muskegs to cross. And for starters who of them really knew anything about plastic piping for natural gas.
The first meeting was held on June 8, 1972. After much general discussion it was decided to form a co-op with the intention of supplying natural gas to rural customer members. They would meet again in a few weeks for this purpose.
On June 28, 1972 a board of directors was voted in: Veral Sims President, Ron O'Connor Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer Arnold Magnus.
Members would canvas the area: the North Saskatchewan River to the west, Leslieville Road on the south, Condor Road on the east and Sleepy Valley area to the north.
The first general meeting was held September 20, 1973. Unfortunately no minutes can be found of that first meeting.
Later director minutes show they joined the Federation of Alberta Gas Co-ops in the fall of 1978. The membership to the Federation would be $5.00 per member and 50 cents per year following. A petty cash fund was begun and they felt $10.00 would be sufficient for office expenses.
For meeting duties directors would be paid $10.00 for 1/2 days, the chairman,$20.00 and the secretary-treasurer $25.00. Canvassers would receive $5.00 per completed application. It was decided that churches and community halls would be serviced at cost.
To assist rural residents to benefit from natural gas, the Alberta Government, through the Telephone and Utilities Branch provided grant money. Customers taking gas in the initial stages would pay $1700.00 where the cost did not exceed $3000.00. The grant would cover the cost from $1700.00 - 3000.00. New customers could apply for a 10 year $1700.00 loan, guaranteed through the Co-op Activities Branch of Alberta Agriculture. Those that did not take gas at the time of plow in, would pay an extra $300.00 fee for late signers.
Potential customers were given a cost comparison to propane. After the installation cost there was projected to be a $376.00 cost savings per year. The price of gas to the member customer would be 50 cents per M.C.F.
To spread the word, information meetings were held in halls such as Crammond, Arbutus, Leslieville and Sleepy Valley. Already in those early years the directors were projecting 2000 possible customers for the new Co-op.
For several months the directors met with several engineering and construction companies to determine who to hire for the best service for dollars spent.
In September 1973 the board hired Mrs. Judy Bouwman as part time secretary/bookkeeper at an hourly rate of $2.50 per hour.
It is interesting to note that in 1974 there was an application from the summer village of Burnstick Lake. Now here we are 39 years later and we are again discussing the economic feasibility of servicing Burnstick Lake.
There must have been some weighty and lengthy discussion at directors meetings. Minutes of May 2, 1974 read, Veral Sims motioned to adjourn the meeting at 1:00 am. The next meeting Veral Sims motioned to adjourn the meeting at midnight, April 20, 1974 1:00 am and August 29, 1974 was 2:00 am.
Tough decisions are understandable, when one of them was to secure a loan with Treasury Branch for $1,500,000.00 at 1% over prime which was 11.5% for 10 year term. The co-op bought $562,804 worth of orange pipe from Standard Pipe in Pittsburg, California.
At about this time the municipal government I.D. #10 hired a Utilities Officer to work with Rocky Gas Co-op. In May 1975 the co-op hired it's first manager, Mr.Harold Dyer at $1050.00 per month and 15 cents a mile. Workman's Compensation and signage for truck and office were in place. Office staff person to be hired at between $2.50 to $3.00 per hour. September 16, 1975 Anthony Olsen replaced Harold Dyer as manager.
In the summer of 1975 negotiations were completed to award the construction contract to Dietz Construction of Calgary. A note in the minutes of October 28, 1975 reads "A report was made of 2900 feet of pipe being plowed starting on Tap 7. Alois Feys was the first customer plowed in". One can imagine directors being present to watch the cats with the plow biting the ground. It had taken more than 3 years of work, planning, countless hours of travel and meetings for this to actually happen.
What began with an idea of a few farmers in the Frisco area to access natural gas for their own local farms, was to grow into a network of serving over 3300 member owners of Rocky Gas Co-op today.
Even choosing the pipe was not a straight forward matter. There were a number of choices. After doing some research, a decision was made to go with a high quality orange pipe the co-op bought out of California. Today we appreciate that wise choice. This pipe is now approaching 40 years in the ground and testing indicates it does not show any sign of deterioration. It is still as good today as the day it was installed.
Thanks guys for that good choice!!!
In those first few months and years the board had to deal with tough issues like, a construction contractor who did not fully live up to the agreement, land owners who did not want the line to cross their land, people who signed up and then wanted their money back. Those directors put in work, effort, and sometimes frustration to keep the process moving forward. One upset resident claimed $10,000.00 damages but after some good negotiating settled for $200.00.
As an indication how times have changed, in March 1976 a new Ford F150 was purchased for $4800.00.
An interesting note is that each director was assigned a number of taps or gaslines. Problems that arose on that tap had to go through that director.
In August Tony Olsen stepped down as manager and Joe Chambers took that position. The longest employee of Rocky Gas Co-op, Glen Mohagen joined the staff in March 1977. That makes 36 years of service. Thanks and congratulations Glen. There is not much about our lines that Glen does not know about.
In 1977 Rupert Murphy came on board as Co-op manager serving in that role until 2006, Craig Cannaday came on board then, till June 2013.
Cinda Montgomery is the present manager of Rocky Gas Co-op Ltd.
4922 43 St, Box 697
Rocky Mountain House, AB