Despite $50,000 in legal fees, Oberlin officials haven’t been able to prevent the construction of the NEXUS gas transmission pipeline through the city limits.
Now construction is set to begin in March.
A vote to accept a settlement from Enbridge, the natural gas company building the 250-mile-long line, will appear on council’s Feb. 19 agenda for a second reading. The offer was the subject of heated words Feb. 5.
Enbridge is willing to pay the city $100,000 in exchange for an easement, a dismissal of pending litigation, and a bar to future legal action seeking to prevent the construction or operation of the pipeline.
Councilwoman Heather Adelman said the offer has left her sleepless as she’s tossed and turned over her vote. To her, negotiating a settlement means that Oberlin’s integrity can be bought for $100,000.
“I think we’re better than this,” Adelman said, her words met with applause from community members who filled council chambers.
The proposed easement allows the city to install a planned water line through the Ramsey right-of-way. The city will be named an additional insurer on the NEXUS insurance policy. And if the pipeline ever shuts down, the city can ask for it to be completely removed.
“I’m angry,” councilwoman Linda Slocum said, her voice intense. “I’m angry that a behemoth industry can chip away at local community and landowner opposition, dictating their ‘take it or leave or else’ agreements and offering money to force its will on the people.”
Oberlin voters passed a community bill of rights in November 2013 banning hydraulic fracturing and all oil and gas extractions, transportation, and storage in Oberlin or within a 20-mile radius of the municipal limits.
But Enbridge plans to ignore the bill of rights and use its court-granted power of eminent domain, leaving council with three options: accept the settlement offer, let the court decide how much money is due to the city, or continue to authorize funds to pursue a lawsuit in hopes that the project will be halted.
“Do we continue to fight a legal battle against great odds in the hope that the battle will be our small town’s contribution to bringing about broader changes in attitudes and eventually a sea change in government?” Slocum posed.
“(Or) do we recognize the state’s authority today and concede the invalidity of our own community bill of rights?” she asked. “Do we reserve our resources to bring opposition at a time that is more politically favorable to us? Do we try to get as many concessions as possible as we cut a deal? Knowing that either way the pipeline will be built, do we now turn to ensure the health and safety of our residents to the fullest possible extent?”
A handful of residents urged council to pick people over profit and lead the fight for climate justice.
“We have a strong case that could contribute to a national precedent of putting local control and community health ahead of corporate profits,” said Rachael Hood, an Oberlin College student and a member of Students for Energy Justice. “Oberlin is great at making headlines and I would like to see us making headlines for resisting this pipeline, not for an explosion on Reserve Avenue.”
Accepting the settlement would be “shameful” and “counter everything that the Oberlin community claims to stand for,” she said.
Oberlin has always been on the right side of history, said David Orr, a professor of environmental studies at the college.
Nobody asked about the odds when the college accepted African-Americans and women in 1833 or in the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of 1858, he said. “The odds were against us, but we did it. We did the right thing.”
He asked how council wants to be remembered when the fossil fuel era is over, when the White House shifts power, or when Enbridge someday disappears. The vote is not about winning or losing in the short-term but in the long-term, he said.
Marsha Peterson, who lives near Reserve Avenue, said her home lies inside the zone that would be devastated by an explosion or fire from the pipeline. She talked at length about the San Bruno pipeline explosion, in which a 30-inch natural gas pipeline burst into flames in September 2010 in a small Californian suburb.
San Bruno is a relatively small community of modest homes and businesses similar to our own city, she said. In a scan of some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States — Winnetka, Ill., New Canaan, Conn., and Shaker Heights, Ohio — there are no large natural gas pipelines.
“Apparently those who are wealthy can find ways to divert gas lines from their neighborhoods while others find themselves without recourse,” she said, noting the NEXUS line is wider than the one through San Bruno and carries larger volume.
College student Dirk Roosenburg remembers when companies came through his neighborhood and asked his parents to give up their oil rights so they could frack on their land. He grew up in Amesville, a village in Athens County, which is the poorest county in Ohio.
Given Oberlin’s history of rejecting societal norms, Roosenburg said it’s critical that council upholds the rights and views of people less fortunate who are directly affected by the pipeline.
Councilman Ronnie Rimbert said he feels law director Jon Clark negotiated a great settlement. Regardless of what anyone thinks, the pipeline is coming, he said, and there are three lines in the ground already.
John Elder, vice president of Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy, said it may be argued that if the city does not accept the $100,000 offer now, it will never get as favorable a settlement in the future.
Still, a city ordinance opposing NEXUS was not passed to win a better price for a pipeline lease — it was passed to protect residents’ rights, he said.
With an agreement, there is at least some concession that can help maintain future infrastructure and allow city involvement in the insurance policy, “God forbid something happens,” councilman Kelley Singleton said. He characterized the settlement about being less about money and more about leverage with Enbridge.
“I thought this was a David versus Goliath situation and what I’ve learned is that we’re not even David,” he said. “This is just so big and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The defeat in Singleton’s voice was unacceptable for college student Christopher Kennedy.
“Those words just don’t seem like the kind of attitude that have driven any kind of social change in history when it comes to standing up against oppression, standing up against violence,” he said.
Only one resident voiced support for the settlement at the Feb. 5 meeting. Tony Mealy said the anti-NEXUS fight is really about opposing fracked gas, and three lines in the city have carried fracked gas for the last 40 years — and no one turned out to demonstrate when four miles of local pipeline were replaced recently.
Since 2014, Oberlin leaders have opposed construction of the NEXUS pipeline, which is expected to pass through the south side of town between Hamilton Street and Reserve Road.
Council approved $20,000 to retain the law offices of Carolyn Elefant, an attorney who focuses on pipeline and other energy-related litigation, to represent the city in proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.
From December 2015 t0 September 2017, Elefant made numerous filings on Oberlin’s behalf, raising objections and presenting arguments as to why the project is unnecessary.
This past June, council authorized $10,000 to hire attorney David Mucklow in a federal lawsuit against FERC brought on behalf of a number of property owners. The case was dismissed before Oberlin was able to join it as a party.
Enbridge’s application for its certificate application was approved in August.
Council approved another $20,000 in October for Elefant to continue her representation. She filed a motion for rehearing, saying FERC failed to address the city’s safety concerns.
In the meantime, Enbridge filed a lawsuit against 90 people seeking a court determination of its power to use eminent domain. Most parties have settled, leaving only Oberlin, the city of Green in Summit County, and one private property owner in the case.
In December, Clark filed a petition for a review of the issuance of the certificate in the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The city redirected the $10,000 approved for Mucklow for that purpose. Both Enbridge and FERC have filed motions to dismiss the petition.
The only issue left to be decided is the amount of compensation based upon value of Oberlin’s land and any damage to the value of the remainder of the parcel.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
Heather Adelman “I cannot in good conscious vote to negotiate a settlement with NEXUS. Negotiating a settlement to me means that we would be violating our own law.”
Bryan Burgess “We want to say no but we can’t. We have exhausted that legal option. Boy, I don’t like to lose and after four years of fighting this. I didn’t like hearing that.”
Kristin Peterson “There is no good way to handle a bad situation. It’s not place any of us want to be.”
Ronnie Rimbert “Do I want this? Absolutely not. Some people say, ‘Can we reroute it?’ For me, that means whose neighborhood are we going to put it in now?”
Kelley Singleton “This is not easy. It’s not fun. It’s really kind of depressing but it’s coming no matter what we do.”
Linda Slocum “I’m concerned about the future legal rights and implications of the acceptance of this agreement. I’m angry that our state legislator has usurped our local right to self-determination. I’m frustrated that federally appointed commissioners carry out the will of oligarchs.”
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