Ohio landowners continue fight against gas pipeline


Toledo Blade

Tom Henry


COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision to invalidate a Nov. 3 ballot initiative undertaken by residents of Fulton, Medina, and Athens counties has been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Online records show the filing was made Wednesday with the state’s highest court by attorneys James Kinsman of Cincinnati and Terry Lodge of Toledo, who are jointly representing 10 landowners named in the complaint. Three — Renee Walker, John P. Ragan, and Elizabeth Athaide-Victor — are from the Swanton area.

In their complaint, the attorneys for the landowners said Mr. Husted “is being sued in his official capacity” as secretary of state and that he is forbidden to invalidate petitions residents had signed “because of his particular quibbles over their content and legality,” adding that his action was “unconstitutional, arbitrary, illegal, and an abuse of his legal authority.”

“Since the three petitions [one each for Fulton, Medina, and Athens counties] conform to the structural requirements of statute and have been proffered for their respective county ballots by more than the minimal requisite numbers of eligible electors, they must be subjected to a formal vote on November 3, 2015,” the complaint states.

The ballot initiatives were inspired by Ohio’s fracking boom and general opposition to major natural gas pipelines, including a 250-mile line that NEXUS Gas Transmission plans to install across much of Ohio and into southeast Michigan.

Landowners gathered signatures to force ballot questions on a “community bill of rights” that would give them more local control over how land is used in their counties.

Mr. Husted, in his ruling that came out last week, said he agreed with objectors that the proposals appeared to be attempts to circumvent state law relating to oil and gas activities. Such efforts, he said, have already found to be in violation of the Ohio Constitution.

“Allowing these proposals to proceed will only serve a false promise that wastes taxpayers’ time and money and will eventually end in sending the charters to certain death in the courts,” Mr. Husted wrote.

Ohio Revised Code empowers the Ohio Secretary of State as the chief elections officer, giving that office the authority to determine the validity of both proposals and petitions.

Mr. Husted also said the proposed ballot initiatives fail to properly establish an “alternative form of county government” as prescribed by Section 301 and 302 of the Ohio Revised Code.

He ruled the petitions are unconstitutional.

The ballot question was proposed by Common Sense Energy Coalition of Fulton County, a group hoping to halt the NEXUS pipeline project.

Charles M. Saunders, an attorney from Metamora, Ohio, recently filed an objection against the Fulton County ballot proposal on behalf of R.J. Lumbrezer, of Lyons, Ohio, and Roy Norman, of Wauseon, who said in their filing they want to keep the proposal off the November ballot.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419­-724-­6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.
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