Northeast Ohio gas pipeline opponents vow to delay project

Toledo Blade

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CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio residents who have tried to get a natural gas pipeline moved away from their communities are vowing to engage in delay tactics after a federal agency dismissed their suggested alternate routes.

Opponents say they will not allow surveys or sell easements for the $2 billion NEXUS Gas Transmission project unless ordered to do so by a court.

“I will stand my ground, as everyone else is standing, until all of our resources and options are exhausted,” said Medina County resident Jon Strong, who has helped lead the effort to reroute the pipeline the last 2 ½ years.

The 255-mile-long line would carry gas from Appalachia across northern Ohio and into Michigan and Canada. Most of the high-pressured line would be in Ohio. Construction is slated to begin by March.

Federal law gives companies wide latitude to build interstate pipelines, and NEXUS Gas officials say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s environmental impact study was a milestone move forward on the plans. Company spokesman Adam Parker said the alternate routes would take the pipeline away from its market areas and “does not accomplish the project’s purpose and need.”

The company’s last regulatory hurdle is winning a certificate of public convenience and necessity, which the company expects to get in early 2017. It also must complete surveys for the proposed route and pay land owners to bury the line on their properties.

The most fervent opposition has been centered in Medina and Summit counties, where opponents say the pipeline will come too close to homes and businesses. Officials in Green in southern Summit County provided three alternative routes to the commission to move the pipeline away from their city.

Green spokeswoman Valerie Wolford said the proposed route would be near schools and would cross backyards and a city park with sports fields. She added that residents are worried about the possibility of an explosion.

“It’s something we have to think about,” Wolford said. “You have to prepare for the worst.”

Green hasn’t allowed surveyors onto city property and won’t sell easements until forced to do so, Wolford said.

Parker said the company has completed 95 percent of its needed surveys and has been negotiating with property owners to acquire easements.

“We’re continuing to work with land owners along the route,” he said.

Mike Stafford lives less than a mile from Strong in Guilford Township. He said he allowed a survey of his land but won’t make it easy for NEXUS going forward. The property that’s been staked for the pipeline that will leave a “50-foot hole that I can never fix,” Stafford said.

“It’s not about the money, but if you’re going to run a pipeline through my land without me wanting it here, I want all of the money I can get,” Stafford said.

Strong stood in the back of his 11 acres recently admiring the scrubby tract of trees and bushes that he let grow wild from the meadow that existed when he built his house 22 years ago. Strong has set up remote cameras that, to his delight, frequently capture images of wildlife traipsing by. The pipeline would cut a 450-foot-long swath along the edge of his land.

“I’ve spent hundreds of hours out here communicating with God,” Strong said. “It’s where I pray. Over the years, you get to know every flower, every plant, every tree.”

Strong and others have argued that it makes sense for the pipeline to be rerouted to farmland where field crops can be grown after construction and fewer people would be affected. No trees can be planted or structures built over the pipeline once it’s completed. And they wonder how they can be forced to provide land in the U.S. for a pipeline that will benefit Canadian companies and residents.

The pipeline is a partnership between Houston-based Spectra Energy and Detroit’s DTE Energy. The NEXUS pipeline was designed to carry gas to customers in Ohio and Michigan and to the Dawn Hub, a massive underground storage and gas trading facility Spectra owns in Ontario, Canada. A $28 billion merger between Spectra and Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Energy is expected to be completed early next year with the combined companies headquartered in Calgary.

Parker disputed the contention by opponents of the route that NEXUS has no customers for the pipeline. NEXUS has commitments for about 60 percent of the pipeline’s capacity, he said.

Strong said he’ll not allow surveyors onto his property and won’t sell NEXUS an easement without a fight.

“I’m just going to make my stand in principle and bring to light the issues that are so unjust,” Strong said. “At the end of the day, when I’m out of options, I’ll have to make a deal like everyone else. Sooner or later, the man will crush me.”