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Company Wages Court Battles to Finish Pipeline Surveys

Property owners and public officials who are opposed to the current proposed route continue to dig in.

Mon August 17, 2015 - Midwest Edition

CLEVELAND (AP) The company planning to build an industrial-sized natural gas pipeline across northern Ohio has been waging and mostly winning court battles to allow surveyors onto people’s property to determine a preferred route that will be submitted to a federal agency for approval.

The $2 billion project is being proposed by NEXUS Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Houston-based Spectra Energy and Detroit-based DTE Energy. Attorneys for NEXUS have obtained temporary restraining orders in Fulton, Lorain, Sandusky, Lucas and Wood counties that allowed surveyors onto the land of those sued.

A case is pending in Erie County and a judge in Medina County denied NEXUS’s request for a restraining order and set a trial date to hear arguments on Sept. 24.

Liz Athaide-Victor, one of the leaders of a citizens group opposed to NEXUS’s pipeline plans, likens the company to “schoolyard bullies.”

“I think the court battles are just beginning,” Athaide-Victor said.

NEXUS has surveyed about two-thirds of the thousands of Ohio properties in the proposed path. It needs to complete the surveys to meet its self-imposed November deadline for submitting an application with the company’s preferred route to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval.

The company is proposing to build 200 mi. (321.8 km) of underground pipeline from Columbiana County in southeast Ohio to the Michigan border in northwest Ohio, moving as much as 1.5 billion cu. ft. of gas each day. Another 50 mi. (80.5 km) will be built in Michigan, ending at the Canadian border. NEXUS wants to start construction in early 2017 and have the project completed by the end of the year.

NEXUS spokesman Arthur Diestel said the pipeline will get affordable natural gas to customers in Ohio, Michigan, Chicago and Canada to meet growing need of all types: industrial, commercial and residential. Diestel said 90 percent of the proposed route would traverse existing rights of way and agricultural land. And, he said, the company is committed to restoring all property, including wetlands, used for pipeline construction.

“We want to minimize those impacts, and we want to mitigate them,” Diestel said.

Property owners and public officials who are opposed to the current proposed route continue to dig in. They worry about what the pipeline will do to property values and are concerned about the potential danger that a high-pressure pipeline represents in the unlikely event that there’s an explosion.

But Ohio law is on NEXUS’s side. Companies that want to build a pipeline or install other utilities have the right to survey and “appropriate” as much land as needed to complete projects. But nothing will be built unless FERC approves a route. When that occurs, the company will have to negotiate a price for using someone’s property.

“They’ll pay for the land, but I’m not for sale,” said Robert Wheeler, who owns just more than 110 acres in Erie County’s Milan Township.

Wheeler thought that having his property listed on the National Register of Historic Places might cause NEXUS to reroute the pipeline around him. The house he lives in was built in the early 1820s. A distant relative, the sister of inventor Thomas Edison, once lived in the home. His neighbors relented and allowed the surveyors to do their work. Wheeler refused and become a defendant in a NEXUS lawsuit.

“They said they can’t fight them,” said Wheeler, a musician. “You might not be able to win, but I’m sure going to try.”

Kathy Cikotte is another Erie County defendant. She owns eight acres in Berlin Township where she raises alpacas and horses.

“A lot of people are feeling intruded upon,” Cikotte said. “Where are the rights of the property owner to say, ’No, I don’t want this’?”

Dick Norton, the mayor of Green, a city 10 miles south of Akron in Summit County, says he understands the economics and the need for transporting gas from the shale fields, but is opposed to having the pipeline come through his city of 26,000 people.

“FERC requires an installer to avoid public places such as schools, office buildings, parks and anything to do with wetlands and areas environmentally protected,” Norton said. “Their routes violate all of those.”

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