“City council, stand with us! Defend CBR! No NEXUS!”
A protest by Oberlin College students overpowered the voices of city council members as they discussed whether to accept a settlement offer on the NEXUS gas pipeline.
When public outrage reached a crescendo, council president Bryan Burgess called for a five minute recess.
“Excuse me,” he said, raising his voice. “I asked for civil discourse tonight and this is not civil discourse.” Burgess gave audience members each three minutes to speak publicly and grew irritated when chants filled the room.
Over a roaring crowd, council eventually voted 4-3 to send the high-stakes matter on to a third reading scheduled for March 5.
Enbridge, the company that plans to build the NEXUS transmission line through Oberlin, 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.
Many who spoke at the meeting were part of a student organization called Students for Energy Justice. The group works to unite students and community members around resisting extreme energy extraction and defending community rights over corporate interest, according to its website.
Christopher Kennedy, a senior at Oberlin College, said he is confident that council will vote against the settlement because “the community already decided how they feel about pipelines.”
In November 2013, voters passed a community bill of rights banning hydraulic fracturing and all related oil and gas extractions, transportation, and storage in the city.
Burgess told those gathered in council chambers that the vote will not stop the pipeline from coming into the city.
“If we don’t take the offer, what we’re saying is, ‘You can have the property for free or very nearly free,’” he said.
Without the settlement, the city will receive an appraised value determined by the court for the property, which Burgess said is $3,500.
“We could do a lot with $100,000… I think it’s a position of privilege to say we don’t care about the money, it’s only about the principle,” he said. “I have to look out for the welfare of the entire community.”
College student Gayla Wolcott responded directly to his comment.
“I am not ashamed of the word principle because when you have privilege, you use it to take responsibility for your actions and you use it to take responsibility for the greed of other people who care more about pipelines than about humans,” she said. “So stand up for our future because we’re all really angry.”
Choosing between short-term economical gain and the future of the billions of people who will inhabit the the planet decades from now is not a difficult decision, Wolcott said.
Enbridge filed a lawsuit against 90 people seeking a court determination of its power to use eminent domain. All parties have settled, leaving Oberlin as the final holdout property owner against the pipeline.
Most notably, the city of Green in Summit County accepted $7.5 million to end its legal war against NEXUS. Green had been the most vocal municipality against the pipeline.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-774-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.