Cheers erupted as a NEXUS gas pipeline settlement was rejected Monday by Oberlin city council.
The unanimous vote brought anti-fracking advocates to their feet. But the decision was moot, since pipeline company Enbridge obviated its $100,000 offer with a Feb. 20 filing asking a federal judge for permission to seize land needed to build its 250-mile NEXUS line.
“NEXUS violated their agreement before we even had one,” said council president Bryan Burgess. “By going to the court and sidestepping our process, NEXUS effectively said, ‘We don’t need you, we don’t care, the court will give us what we want, so to heck with you.’”
Burgess said he went into Monday’s meeting not believing council members had anything to vote on. “We were negotiating with NEXUS in good faith,” he said. “Apparently, they weren’t.”
About 20 Oberlin College protesters from Students for Energy Justice were present, holding signs against the agreement. At a Feb. 20 meeting, council’s vote was interrupted by chants from the same student group — this time, they were silent and college student Rachael Hood spoke on behalf of the group.
“We regret how our actions may have been perceived by some members of the community, but we do not regret using that opportunity to remind council of the weight of this decision to violate the (Community Bill of Rights),” Hood said.
“We are angry that we have to fight against this massively detrimental project and that our community’s health is not valued over corporate profit. We could not let this decision happen without making some kind of noise.”
An emotional speech by college student Rex Simmons was met with an approving roar from the audience. NEXUS pipeline trenching has been completed in Ypsilanti, Mich., less than 10 minutes away from Simmons’ house.
“I felt truly heartbroken and helpless as I saw this pipeline as the symptomatic epitome of so much of the economic and racial discrimination that has plagued Ypsilanti since its origin,” he said. “The neighborhood that NEXUS snakes through is surrounded by highways on all sides, a relic of racially-segregated housing developments built by Ford Motor Company to separate black and white factory workers during World War II.”
The neighborhood is still majority black with one of the lowest property values and home ownership rates in the city, Simmons said. Residents lack a robust neighborhood government structure to act in their interest.
He alleged that pipeline construction began without any consultation, as Enbridge used eminent domain and predatory survey measures to get residents to hastily sign off on their property.
“By voting no on this settlement, Oberlin will show people like my family and my neighbors and my old coworkers and my classmates and my exhausted anti-pipeline activist friends that here, we’re still fighting a fight that Ypsilanti already thought it lost,” he said. “Not only do we owe it to ourselves to say no to this settlement, but we owe it to everyone affected by these pipelines to show that Oberlin has not given up on them.”
NEXUS construction in Ohio began March 5. It will be installed from east to west and is expected to begin in Oberlin in mid- to late April, Burgess said.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.