But will it bring new economic opportunities, or decreased property values, on a 250-mile path upon which nothing can be built in the future?
According to citizens and local governments watching it closely, the pipeline might bring both. But it’s the potential negative impacts that have some local officials opposed to the pipeline and fighting its approval.
“We certainly are not going to benefit from the Nexus pipeline,” said Al Bollas, mayor of New Franklin, which is between Akron and Canton near the Portage Lakes region.
Like others, Bollas has heard the claims by the pipeline’s developer, Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp., that the line would provide $42 million annually for local governments and schools.
But that’s along the entire path of the line, including portions in Michigan.
Besides, he doesn’t believe it for a minute.
“It’s a bunch of bullshit,” Bollas said, adding that the jobs created by the project would only be short-term construction jobs, while the pipeline would require few if any local workers over the long term.
What worries Bollas, and some other officials, is that once the pipeline is in, it will dominate the landscape in significant ways. Nothing can be built on top of it for example — or within 50 feet of it. Worse yet, say some, the land that it occupies can’t be regraded for future projects. No building, no digging, no smoothing out hills or valleys to create level ground.
“Once they come in, you have to meet their grades. If they go three feet deep (as planned), you can’t move five feet of dirt later,” said Wayne Wiethe, planning director for the city of Green, south of Akron. “Whatever that grade is today, that becomes the grade for the next 50 years — or however long that pipeline is there. That’s our concern in terms of what that pipeline does to Green.”
The city is particularly concerned because the planned route of the pipeline includes a stretch of Green near I-77, which is what the city considers its prime land for future commercial development.
If the pipeline occupies that land, it will constrict future building along its right-of-way, even if a builder does not need to grade the land, Wiethe said.
“That land becomes pretty much untouchable,” Wiethe said.
Trouble down the line
Another concern is property values. While the pipeline developers promise it will bring an economic benefit — and it would, in all likelihood, help drillers in eastern Ohio get more money for their gas — it also might have an effect on property values. A land parcel that might otherwise be attractive to developers might become unusable, and even home values could decrease, local officials say.
“There could be an impact on the revenue of local schools” if local properties lose value in that way, Wiethe said.
Just the threat of the pipeline being built already is affecting the residential real estate market in New Franklin, Bollas said.
“Right now, the houses that are for sale are having a difficult time, because people don’t know where the pipeline’s going to go,” he said.
Bollas thinks many residents would likely want the value of their properties reassessed, lowering their real estate taxes, if the line goes through.
That likely would remain the case even after the pipeline is built, the grass is grown over the top of it and its presence is all but invisible from the surface, Wiethe said. That’s because people either fear the danger of living close to a large pipeline, don’t want the hassle of future maintenance and repairs, or both. The pipeline’s permanent easement would give its owners the right to come onto private property and dig any time the pipeline needed to repaired or serviced.
“There will be people who will stay away from it, just because it’s there,” Wiethe said. “On any given day, they could come in and dig up your backyard because they have a problem.”
A voice of support
But not all local officials are opposed. Medina County Economic Development Corp. director Bethany Dentler said she’s in favor of the pipeline.
“We took a stand as an organization two years ago to support the development of the oil and gas industry because we know that’s going to present opportunities for future growth in Medina County’s economy,” Dentler said.
Present and future businesses in Medina County can and will sell into the supply chain of not only pipeline development, but also for drilling in eastern Ohio generally, she said. By supporting pipeline development, the county supports the industry that props up those businesses, she said.
Dentler envisions having high-volume, high-pressure gas available to her county’s industrial park in Wadsworth, which might mean it can attract certain manufacturers who require such a gas supply.
A Spectra spokesman said the company is negotiating to provide tap-ins for several customers along the path of the pipeline, and that it’s finding demand for the pipeline’s gas not just in Canada, but in Ohio, Michigan and the Chicago area. That’s part of the company’s mission and its campaign to win support for the project’s potential impact on local economies.
Ironically, Dentler lives in the same county where citizens began to organize against the pipeline last summer. She’s well aware of their concerns about safety, property values and future development constrictions. She just doesn’t share them.
“I’m a resident of Medina County, and I want to maintain a high quality of life,” Dentler said. “But I’ve done a lot of research … and I’m satisfied that what Spectra wants to do is to build a high-quality pipeline and be as safe as they can.”
‘They’re steamrolling us’
Meanwhile, the Medina County citizens who formed the group “Citizens Against The Nexus/Spectra Pipeline” continue to fight.
“We’re turning up the heat and we’ve spent a lot of time with the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) people,” said Jon Strong, one of the group’s organizers.
They’ve had some success. For example, FERC has told Spectra to do due diligence on a second route, proposed by officials in Green, that would divert the pipeline away from more populated areas of northern Ohio and through more rural communities to the south.
Spectra spokesman Arthur Diestel said the company also has reduced the size of its proposed pipeline, from one that’s 42 inches in diameter to one that is 36 inches across.
But Strong and others are not confident they’ll prevail in a system they say is stacked in favor of pipeline developers, who have easy access to eminent domain if FERC approves the project.
“I don’t want to give up on it, but the way they’re steamrolling us, it’s not like they’re backing down on it,” New Franklin’s Bollas said of Spectra’s efforts.
The company appeared a bit more flexible when Diestel discussed the matter in email correspondence with Crain’s. He said Spectra is still studying its proposed construction corridor and has not yet determined a final route, which would be included in its formal application for approval of the project by FERC in the fourth quarter of this year.
“I would like to emphasize that the proposed pipeline route has not yet been determined,” Diestel said. “Based on recent feedback received from project stakeholders during Nexus’ informational meetings, open houses and in communications with public officials, Nexus will include a detailed analysis of alternative routes, including the southern route alternative and the reroute proposed by the city of Green.”