Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series taking a look back at the NEXUS project, which was first announced in 2014 and after several legal battles and settlements, was completed in 2018.
GREEN The NEXUS Gas Transmission Pipeline has been an issue many in Green have strong feelings about.
When discussions of the 36-inch diameter pipeline first began, the city began figuring out a plan to fight the pipeline and have it rerouted away from the city.
The project was first announced in the fall of 2014 when the city was notified that NEXUS was looking to route the pipeline, which is expected to transmit 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to markets in Ohio, Michigan and Canada, through Green limits.
At that time, city officials said they were never against transporting natural gas, but that they believed there was a better place for the project to travel than through Green, which is the largest and most densely populated area along the route.
Not long after the project was announced, the Coalition to Reroute NEXUS (CORN) group formed. This group consisted of residents, along with Green Attorney David Mucklow.
The city began developing an alternative route for the pipeline, which would lessen the impact, on residents in the southern portion of Green; an area that is in close proxmity to Akron-Canton Airport, homes, parks and wetland areas.
Green GISP and GIS Administrator Chrissy Lingenfelter worked to develop the alternative route, which took the pipeline through the mostly rural southern Wayne and Stark Counties.
“Nobody wants this, that is clear,” Lingenfelter said in an interview in 2016. “Nobody wants a pipeline intersecting their property and I understand that. The approach that we took was minimizing impact.”
To develop the alternative route, the city looked at wetlands, resident impacts and impacts on places people gather. The city submitted their alternative route to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in March 2015.
While the alternative route was submitted, it never got off the ground and it remains unclear how much NEXUS or FERC reviewed it.
Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer said there were route changes but he can’t say how significantly FERC considered the city's alternative route. He said one of the biggest surprises with the whole project was the fact the city clearly had a better alternative, which wasn’t taken into much consideration.
He said Lingenfelter spent two years developing the alternative route and researching all the environmental factors. The alternative route would have reduced the average number of structures within 1,500 feet of the pipeline from 49 to 14 per mile.
“We did get some attention,” Neugebauer said. “It was the largest re-route to be considered in the history of FERC.”
Nuegebauer believes FERC wasn’t interested in the alternative route as officials said in the interest of time and money, they weren’t going to put much effort into examining a new route.
While the alternative route never panned out, there were some changes to the original one. NEXUS had originally planned to follow the high tension wires through Green, but that was largely opposed by residents and First Energy. By not following the high tension wires, this increased the length of the pipeline in Green from six to eight miles.
Just a little more than a year ago, on Feb. 5, 2018, City Council, the mayor and city administration went into executive session for more than two hours. City Council announced there was an offer to settle with NEXUS and it planned to discuss it during two upcoming council meetings scheduled for the following two days, but details of the offer weren’t provided.
During the Feb. 6, 2018, meeting, details of the settlement were revealed which included the city receiving $7.5 million, 20 acres of park land adjacent to Boettler Park and oversight of the project. In return, the city would drop its lawsuits against the pipeline and provide road-use maintenance agreements.
In front of a standing room crowd Feb. 7, City Council heard public comment for more than an hour before members of council shared their own opinions on the proposed settlement. Residents posed many questions to council about water quality, the amount of money offered, and all agreed the settlement was not worth taking.
The 4-3 vote to approve the settlement was close and tension ran tight in the room prior to the vote with audience members yelling out profanity at times.
Voting for the settlement was Bob Young, Barbara Babbitt, Rocco Yeargin and Chris Humphrey. Voting against the settlement was Matthew Shaughnessy, Stephen Dyer and Justin Speight.
Humphrey at the time said he didn’t see a legal path forward or a better option coming. Shaughnessy, however, said Green is not a city that can be bought.
“Supporting a settlement was not what I was elected to do,” Speight said the night of the vote.
More than a year later and the pipeline completed in the city, members of City Council stand by the way they voted.
“I stand by my vote,” Babbitt said. “Hindsight proves that the legal counsel provided to the city of Green last February, advising settlement with NEXUS, was sound.”
Dyer said he also stands by his no vote and believes residents deserved a more thorough vetting.
Yeargin stands by voting for the settlement.
“The city did the right thing,” Yeargin said. “Since the settlement vote, NEXUS has won every legal decision involving the pipeline, just as our legal team predicted a year ago.”
Yeargin said initially he did not fully appreciate the importance of all the safety measures that were negotiated by the city’s legal team. He said once he was appointed to the Nexus Safety & Settlement Enforcement Committee, he realized just how important the safety measures were.
“The committee, consisting of the mayor, all of the city department heads, myself, a resident who lives near the pipeline and independent experts hired by the city, met with the NEXUS construction team nearly every week during the entire nine-month construction process,” Yeargin said.
Shaughnessy, however, stands by his no vote and said had council said no they could have brought NEXUS back to the negotiating table immediately where the city could have negotiated additional safety measures such as minor re-routes and additional emergency shut off valves just to name a few.
To this day, Neugebauer also stands by what the city did.
“I’m proud of what our city did,” Neugebauer said. “We worked hard, harder than any community on the route.”
He said there isn’t even a comparable settlement along the line when it comes to government entities.
NEXUS never came to the city and offered $7.5 million, Neugebauer said. On several occasions, during the course of a year, NEXUS offered Green $177,500 for the easements it needed but Neugebauer said his answer was always no. He said negotiations eventually took place and that is how he got NEXUS up to the $7.5 million and at the last minute he requested the 20 acres of park land. He wouldn’t go into details of the negotiations but said the city pushed to get the settlement they did and a lot of negotiations took place over a two week period.
“Up until that point in late January, the thought of settling never entered my conscience,” Neugebauer said.
He believes many people were misled to think there was hope if the city didn’t settle but he said there was nothing that was going to stop the pipeline.
“The advice by our attorney’s was dead on,” Neugebauer said.
He said had the city not taken the settlement, they would have gotten $177,500.
In New Franklin, the city received $60,000 for 12 road easements. NEXUS later realized it needed an additional road easement and paid that city an additional $75,000.
Following the 4-3 vote by City Council, Citizens for Responsible Green Government formed and began gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the settlement. It gathered approximately 1,500 signatures, and the Summit County Board of Elections approved they had enough signatures to move the issue to the ballot. Once the signatures were determined valid, the board of elections returned the petitions to the city to determine the sufficiency and validity of the petition.
The city obtained two separate legal opinions, which both found the petition to be invalid.
Mucklow and Green Resident Tammy Daly said when the city decided not to turn in the NEXUS referendum to the Summit Count Board of Elections they ignored the 1,500 people who signed the referendum.
“Council and the mayor are voting against the will of their constituents,” Daly said. “They are not listening to what the people want.”