NEXUS pipline reps, opponents meet at Swancreek Twp. Trustees meetingWritten by Don Lee | | email@example.com
DELTA — In a contentious public meeting marked by accusations of dishonesty and promises of profit, backers and foes of a proposed high-pressure pipeline might have found something to talk about.
“This is my Christmas present to you,” said NEXUS pipeline foe Liz Athaide-Victor, plopping a stapled-together copy of map onto a conference table in front of Arthur Diestel, spokesman for the company planning the pipeline.
The map contained a proposal for an alternate route through Swancreek Township and surrounding townships for the NEXUS high-pressure transport pipeline.
“That’s the sort of great feedback we’re looking for,” Diestel told her in front of about 80 people crowded into the Swancreek Township building Dec. 15 near Delta.
It’s a compromise of sorts, considering the pipeline opponents had already received backing from Swancreek Township trustees in the form of a Dec. 8 resolution opposing the passage of the pipeline through the township at all.
NEXUS is a proposed 42-inch, 2-billion-cubic-feet-a-day pipeline meant to link the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in southeast Ohio to the natural-gas pipeline grid in southeast Michigan and Ontario, Canada. Spectra Energy Corp. and Detroit-based DTE Energy are the lead developers.
Spectra promises a safe, environmentally friendly pipeline that will provide jobs and other economic benefits to the areas through which the pipeline passes, but opposition groups that have formed in the path of the pipeline aren’t buying that.
They cite safety concerns, both from the high-pressure pipeline itself and from the natural gas it would carry, at least partly the product of “fracking” in the shale fields of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Opponents say the “fracking” process produces radioactive radon gas, and the presence of the pipeline would prevent the full use of their properties.
However, Athaide-Victor’s alternative map represents a compromise, one she says her group was willing to talk about all along.
The group she represents, Neighbors against NEXUS, has argued for the pipeline to be relocated within an alternative “energy transmission corridor” established through a sparsely populated area and in which any pipelines could be more easily monitored for safety.
One suggested route is the path of the ET Rover pipeline through northwestern Fulton County. However, Diestel and others note that the “study corridor” proposed by NEXUS already follows the route of a high-tension electric line north and south through the township, making that an “energy transmission corridor.”
The Neighbors’ alternative corridor would swing west about 2 1/2 miles, crossing the Ohio Turnpike before angling northeast, running through the hamlet of Ai, to rejoin the original NEXUS study corridor. A second alternative loop proposed by the Neighbors would swing south of, instead of north of, the village of Neapolis in Providence Township.
Athaide-Victor said the route was picked by an engineer working with the group to avoid any of the properties owned by people contacted by NEXUS.
“We’re going to tweak this,” Athaide-Victor said. “We’re not going to dump this on anybody’s property.”
That’s what NEXUS plans to do with its own study corridor, Diestel said. Elsewhere along the proposed Ohio route, Diestel said, Spectra has moved the corridor or shifted the pipeline route within the corridor to meet neighbors’ concerns and opposition.
He said the study corridor is only a starting point anyway, and the final route could shift before the pipeline begins operation in late 2017. Spectra Energy plans more public information sessions, with maps “that people can mark up” to delineate their concerns and questions, he said.
Not everyone was placated, though.
Fernando Mora, who owns Johnston Fruit Farm in Swancreek Township — including an orchard on Airport Highway and a “U-pick” berry field on County Road 3, both in or near the study corridor — said it would take time for his operation to recover from a pipeline going through it.
Diestel attempted to reassure Mora that crop planting could begin almost immediately after the pipeline was buried and the land filled in, but Mora responded: “Sir, I don’t know if you know anything about orchards, but these are trees.”
Trees would not be allowed to be planted above the pipeline, according to the land-use restrictions provided by the company. Even if that were not so, Mora said, it takes several growing seasons for a fruit tree to be re-established or replaced.
“This is my life. This is my wife’s life. It’s my children’s college education,” he said.
Athaide-Victor demanded “a written guarantee of the value of our property, otherwise I’m not willing to take the risk.”
Paul Wohlfarth of Ottawa Lake, Mich., whose son owns 20 acres of woods on the study corridor that could not be replaced if the pipeline goes through the land, complained of the “cavalier attitude” of the pipeline company in bringing “radiation heavy” radon-laced gas from fracking “near 8,200 homes.”
“This will be a safe pipeline” which will “move only natural gas,” including natural gas produced by traditional, non-fracking means,” Diestel said. “NEXUS is involved in transportation, not production or exploration. We are the UPS of the energy world.”
He repeated that the study corridor is not the final route and represents only a starting point for determining where best to put the pipeline.
Lea Harper, who has homes in southeast Ohio, where the gas fields are, and in Grand Rapids, described herself as a “fracking refugee.” She’s a member of the Ohio Community Rights Network.
“Ohio has been compromised by this industry,” she said. Political contributions ensure legislators “look the other way” to the benefit of the gas and pipeline industries, and local people will not benefit.
“This is for the frackers, this is not for the United States, not for our clean energy future,” she said, noting claims that the gas in the pipeline will be sent to Canada for export overseas, and Ohioans will be stuck cleaning up the mess.
“We are the resource colony,” she said. “We are getting (back) what we did to other countries.”
Responding to Harper and other opponents who dispute any local benefits from the pipeline, Diestel said the pipeline could have taps along the way to benefit local gas distribution companies wanting to sell gas to residential and commercial customers.
Other opponents focused on a lack of communication from pipeline proponents.
David Ruth of Neapolis said, “I have neighbors within a few hundred feet of the pipeline (study corridor) that don’t know anything about it.”
However, Diestel said letters were sent to everyone along the 600-foot study corridor.
Trustee Pam Moore reminded Diestel she asked on Nov. 11 for a list of people contacted by the pipeline company; Diestel replied dealings with private landowners are private. “That’s actually a federal requirement,” he said.
Resident Sally Wylie wanted to know why “no one answers the phone at the customer service number” on the project’s website.
Trustee Rick Kazmierczak wanted to know whether the pipeline would be buried deep enough to not be affected by freezing and thawing of the ground; whether the pipeline would be bored or whether a trench would be dug to install it; what protection against corrosion would be in place; and how the company would repair or replace damaged sections of pipe.
Diestel said those answers would depend on the conditions of the ground where each part of the pipeline would go through, but technological solutions such as “smart pigs,” devices that travel through pipelines and monitor for leaks and corrosion, would help prevent dangerous situations.
Lack of concise, “yes or no,” answers angered many at the meeting to the point where Trustee Pam Moore told one man she’d ask him to leave the meeting if he did not stop interrupting during an exchange about the percentage of the gas in the pipeline that would be available for use in Ohio and Michigan. That man stood up, shouted, “You people might as well be hauling blood across the state,” and left.
Not everyone was there to oppose, however.
Brett LaFaso, business representative for Local 18 of the International Union of Operating Engineers in Toledo, said the pipeline will mean jobs, and the gas it carries will mean “more energy, and the cheaper it gets, the more jobs (it will bring). This energy will benefit us, if not this generation, then the next. Ultimately this is about people who want to work hard and pay their own way.” In answer to a challenge from another audience member, LaFaso said there’s a pipeline within 1,500 feet of his home on Jeffries Road.
Several other members of Local 18 were there to give support.
LaFaso, who said he was a crane operator on the Veterans Glass City Skyway bridge project before becoming business representative, said after the meeting he’s interested in his fellow union workers getting jobs the pipeline project will bring. He also said new technologies will make the pipeline safe for the people around it.
He said he’s seen a “smart pig” sound an alarm about corrosion in a pipe, and when a crew dug to find the problem, found the corrosion was in an old car wheel rim that had been buried near the pipe. The “pig” had responded to the electrical imbalance created by the wheel rim rusting.
“That’s how good these things are,” he said. As for the explosions and fires, some deadly, cited by pipeline opponents, “You’re not going to see those anymore.”
Gary Daoust, who said he had been a construction laborer on the Delta steel mill project, said he was here to “advocate for the pipeline (being built) responsibly.”
“I think it can be done safely and soundly,” he told audience members. “They (NEXUS) want your input as to how to do this safely. Something’s going to happen and you’re either going to have it here or a couple miles away.”