GREEN As NEXUS continues to march forward clearing trees and installing temporary roads for the 36-inch natural gas pipeline, the city of Green will soon be turning in over 1,500 signatures to the Board of Elections collected during a referendum attempt.
The signatures were collected by Citizens for Responsible Green Government, which formed following Green City Council approving a settlement with NEXUS on Feb. 7. The settlement offers Green 20 acres of land adjacent to Boettler Park, $7.5 million and several other safety incentives including having someone from the city on-site monitoring construction of the project.
Those collecting signatures want to see the settlement overturned and needed about 800 valid signatures for the referendum. Green’s charter states any piece of legislation that doesn’t produce a three-fourths majority support can be subject to a referendum. The city stands by its position that the legislation was administrative legislation, meaning it is not subject to a referendum.
Petitions were submitted to the city on March 8 and the city is reviewing them. Residents are able to view the signatures and remove their signature if they wish. Any resident wanting to review the signatures can contact the City’s Finance Department at 330-896-6603. The city said per Ohio Revised Code, it is required to hold onto any referendum petition for a minimum of 10 days.
The city also said it has until Aug. 8, or 90 days before the election to turn the signatures over to the Summit County Board of Elections, but intends to do it in early April. Ultimately, the city said the Board of Elections will decide if the referendum can be placed on the November ballot.
Attorney David Mucklow, who is involved with Political Action Committee Coalition to Reroute NEXUS (CORN), said anyone can file a challenge with the Board of Elections, and he believes Green Law Director Diane Calta will do so.
Councilman Chris Humphrey calls the referendum "a terrible idea." He doesn’t believe there can be a referendum, but added that if it gets on the ballot, the city would have a lot to lose.
"The pipeline is still going to go in," Humphrey said.
He said if the referendum goes through, the city would lose safety precautions, the ability to go back to federal court with issues easily and the $7.5 million. He also said the settlement is like a contract and if there is no contract, the city doesn’t get to keep the money.
The city has stated it gets to keep the $7.5 million even if the pipeline isn’t constructed, but hasn’t specified if the settlement were voided if the money would stay in the city’s hands.
"I don’t see what the referendum plans to accomplish," Humphrey said.
Humphrey believes people have been misled to believe the referendum will stop the pipeline.
Councilman Matthew Shaughnessy said he is upset with the referendum process and the way the city is handling it. He said at first the city’s law director failed to sign off that the referendum was going to happen.
"The whole argument that a referendum cannot happen is a legal argument," Shaughnessy said. "I think the city is trying to buy more time for NEXUS to get the trees cut down."
Mucklow said another petition is also being circulated throughout the city to require the law director to live within the city and for it to be an elected position. If enough signatures are collected, this could also appear on the November ballot. Starting with the 2019 November election, the law director position would be voted on to select the candidate if the change is approved.
The settlement deals with 2.5 acres of city land, which NEXUS was trying to obtain through eminent domain. The city had lost the case in the lower court and was told the case would likely be dismissed in NEXUS’S favor since the pipeline already had state and federal approval.
Those in favor of the settlement have argued that without a settlement, the city would have only gotten the appraised value of the 2.5 acres, which would have been somewhere between $17,000 and $100,000 if the city lost its appeal.
In a records request obtained by The Suburbanite, communication of how the special meeting to consider the NEXUS settlement was organized, was obtained. Humphrey began organizing the meeting Jan. 31.
"I need to schedule a special meeting of Council this Monday at 5 p.m. for the purpose of an executive session to discuss a litigation matter," the text from Humphrey said. "It is imperative that you are there. The law director will also be presenting us with legislation to act upon at the conclusion of the executive session."
Councilman Stephen Dyer quickly asked in a response if legislation can be passed that quickly with this short of notice.
"I just want to be clear here as we head into the special meeting Monday," Dyer said in a text. "Are we being asked to sign off on a deal with NEXUS? On ﬁrst reading? With maybe an hour and a half of consideration? At a special meeting few members of the public will likely be able to attend? I just want to make sure I’m understanding the procedure here. Because if this is a NEXUS deal, I’m a bit uncomfortable making a call on something that will have this major and profound an impact on our community without much, if any, public input. We’ve been really great at public engagement on this issue so far. Would hate to change that here when the deal is struck."
Humphrey responded and said, "We will address the issue being presented in Executive Session, not via text message."
The timeline of the settlement has been discussed with concerns from several on council along with some community members who have felt it was rushed.
Humphrey said the intention was never to vote on it in one night and the administration and city council would have never allowed for that to happen. Shaughnessy disagrees with Humphrey and said the text message speaks for itself. He said one member of the public tried to speak during the special meeting and was denied by Humphrey.
Shaughnessy also said he would have liked to seen more negotiations take place between the city and NEXUS to address adding a smell detection if gas leaks from the pipeline along with several other items.
Prior to the executive session, members of council were invited to speak one-on-one with Mayor Gerard Neugebauer and law director about the settlement. Shaughnessy said he did and he believes many of his colleagues on council did also.
Another issue that has been raised is if the settlement was rushed through with such urgency because of a deadline to get trees cut down. Federal law requires any trees be felled before April 1 so that any endangered bats that migrate don’t nest in the trees during the spring. NEXUS knew of the looming deadline and Mucklow said the big rush, in his opinion, had to do with the bats. He said he communicated the issue to Humphrey and told him to hold out a few weeks.
Mucklow said 300-year-old trees are being cut down at Ariss Park, which is near his home. He said this could have been avoided if the city negotiated more.
Shaughnessy said he was surprised to read Humphrey’s quote in a recent Akron Beacon Journal article. The quote read:
"But NEXUS was willing to pay for some certainty so that work could begin before a March 31 state deadline that would have prohibited tree-cutting because of a rare migratory bat," he said in the article.
Shaughnessy said the tree cutting deadline being a part of the settlement was never discussed with council. He said there were three new members of council that started at the beginning of the year and it should have been a topic of discussion.
"I asked why NEXUS offered the $7.5 million to begin with," Shaughnessy said.
Now, Shaughnessy said, he has a better understanding why NEXUS likely wanted to meet the tree deadline.
Humphrey said the bat issue has been talked about for 3 and 1/2 years and if councilmembers weren’t aware, they weren’t paying attention. He said the bat issue wasn’t the reason the settlement happened when it did.
Humphrey also said politics has played into things and some people are just trying to get others upset.
"A year from now we are going to know who was right about this," Humphrey said.
Elaine Selzer, who owns 48-acres of farmland in the city, hasn’t stopped fighting.
No construction has taken place on her property as she continues to fight in court with NEXUS. Federal Judge John Adams ruled in Akron that NEXUS could survey her property, but she appealed that. The case is pending in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Mucklow takes issue with NEXUS using eminent domain in a situation like this and claims it isn’t legal. He said NEXUS is partially owned by a Canadian company and 85 percent of the pipeline’s capacity will be exported to another country.
He said if only constituents could be heard by the court of appeal, maybe something could change. He said in the 3 and 1/2 year fight, they haven’t heard anything and they are the court that can do something.
Mucklow isn’t giving up hope yet, he said there have been pipeline projects across the United States that have been stopped in the middle of construction.