Federal agency OKs gas pipeline project fought by residents

By MARK GILLISPIE Markets Associated Press

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved construction of a high-pressure pipeline that will carry natural gas from the shale fields of Appalachia, across northern Ohio and into Michigan and Canada, a decision likely to be a death blow for project opponents concerned about safety and property rights.

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The planned $2 billion NEXUS Gas Transmission project is a partnership between Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge and Detroit-based DTE Energy. The 255-mile-long (402-kilometer) pipeline will be capable of carrying 1.5 billion cubic (42.5 million cubic meters) feet of gas per day, enough to meet the needs of about 15,000 homes for a year.

The commission Friday issued a certificate of public necessity and convenience, the project's last major regulatory hurdle.

Despite the opposition, there wasn't much chance the project wouldn't be approved as long as the NEXUS partnership was willing to pay for it. The Natural Gas Act of 1938 gives private companies wide latitude to build pipelines in the U.S., and FERC has no known history of disapproving projects like NEXUS.

"Receiving this stamp of approval is a testament to our strong history of consultation and successful project execution," said NEXUS Gas Transmission President Jim Grech in a statement.

Jon Strong of Medina County's Guilford Township in northeast Ohio scoffs at the notion that property owners were consulted in any meaningful way. He became one of the leaders of a fight that began with an effort to convince NEXUS and FERC's staff to move the pipeline south to farmland and away from semi-rural communities like Strong's and cities like Green in neighboring Summit County. Green officials provided detailed plans for alternate routes that both NEXUS and FERC's staff rejected as having no advantage over company's preferred route.

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A federal lawsuit filed by opponents against FERC over the approval process was dealt a blow earlier this month when a magistrate wrote that U.S. District Court was the wrong venue for their complaint.

Strong's 11-acre property sits directly in the pipeline's path. Construction will result in the clearing of a 450-foot-long, 100-foot-wide swath of property. Once the pipeline is buried, he won't be allowed to plant or build anything on top of a 50-foot-wide easement the company requires for access to the pipeline. His house is well within the expected 1,500-foot blast zone should a catastrophic failure occur.

Strong called the FERC approval process "an elaborate sham." He said the agency and its staff willfully ignored residents and their concerns.

"It's a bureaucratic means to a predetermined outcome," he said.

Strong and others refused to allow NEXUS surveyors onto their property, even when they were accompanied by armed sheriff's deputies. Property owners have no choice now. What's left for holdouts is negotiating easement rights that preserve what they can of their property and gets them the best possible price for land used by the pipeline.

Throughout their fight of more than two years, Strong and others were realistic about their chances of prevailing. Yet Strong said he'd do it again. And Kathie Jones, of Sharon Township, vowed to keep fighting.

Jones helped create Sustainable Medina County, a group that's pushed for a ballot issue that would allow the public to vote on projects with potential environmental affects. She lives 3 miles from a large compressor station that moves gas through the pipeline.

"They got the permit," Jones told The Medina Gazette. "But it's not over yet. We're going to keep fighting."