Dozens of area people endured an unusually warm wait Aug. 10 to offer their opinions about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s opinion that a proposed NEXUS pipeline would be environmentally friendly.
One opinion shared by those who gathered for the event at Swanton High School was that FERC’s one-on-one meeting format was a disappointment.
FERC hosted the event, one of six held along the pipeline’s route, to gather public opinion about its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline. The statement determines that any impact the proposed pipeline may have on the environment along its 255-mile route would be within an acceptable range.
According to NEXUS spokesperson Adam Parker, the company still anticipates receiving FERC’s approval of the pipeline within the first quarter of 2017. The pipeline would then go into service by November of next year.
The format of last week’s event angered some in attendance, who wanted to speak at a microphone in an open forum like one FERC held previously in Swanton about NEXUS. The format change to private meetings was announced in a memorandum FERC released on Aug. 4, six days before the event.
Those wishing to comment were assigned numbers and told to wait in the high school cafeteria for their turn. Each was given three to five minutes in a private meeting held in a classroom with a court reporter to express their opinion on FERC’s findings.
Community members waiting their turns had to weather uncomfortably warm conditions caused because the school’s air conditioning wasn’t operating.
Paul Wohlfarth, a member of the Coalition To Reroute NEXUS (CORN), said up until a couple of weeks ago the Swanton High School event was formatted to be an open forum. He said FERC changed it to one-on-one meetings without explanation.
“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on, and they go to those meetings for information,” he said. Wohlfarth said due to the individual meetings “people just didn’t hang around. We came here to find out what was going on, and they changed (the format), and they killed the meeting.”
He said the five-hour event was a waste of time. “It’s far too late. (FERC is) not entertaining any reroutes. I don’t believe there was any information offered (by the public) that would change their minds.”
All of the people he spoke to that evening were against the pipeline, Wohlfarth said.
“They were upset that, with all the work they’ve done, FERC really hasn’t considered it. They haven’t considered the threat to the community. And most of the politicians don’t care too much. The only way you’re going to fight it now is in court and with lawsuits.”
Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney who represents property owners affected by pipeline projects, sent a letter dated Aug. 8 to FERC General Counsel David Morenoff and Project Manager Joanne Wachholder formally objecting to the late change in format.
He said it came at a vulnerable time for property owners, when decisions have been made to finalize publicly-opposed pipeline routes.
“It was completely indifferent, very insensitive,” Lodge said of the event. “This is a deliberate attempt to shut down public opposition to NEXUS. This is a pretty nasty, back-of-the-hand approach.”
When he arrived at the event just after 5 p.m., he passed a man who had come prepared for a public forum, and was angrily leaving. “He said, ‘You can’t believe what they’re doing…I came to listen to other people’s comments,’” Lodge recalled.
Almost no FERC employees were in attendance, and no pamphlets or other information explaining the revised format were available, he said. He heard people angrily discussing the one-on-one sessions, and attributed the small turnout to that and the warm building.
“A lot of people were sort of bewildered,” Lodge said. “The real purpose of public sessions is to identify people you can network with, for or against the project. It was a big nothing of a meeting.”
FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen said the one-on-one format for the event was announced July 8, and was mentioned in the DEIS. She said there was no deliberate attempt to deceive the public.
In fact, FERC has used the format for about a year, and has received positive feedback, Young-Allen said.
“Oftentimes, during the town hall meetings, people do not have the opportunity to speak…and they complained,” she said.
It’s also a more convenient format, allowing people to have their say, then go home, she said.
“Some people are too shy to stand up in front of a crowd to speak. This way, they have their say,” she added.
Young-Allen said FERC is required only to gather public comments, and the method is not dictated. The public events are held as a courtesy.
She said comments can also be delivered at ferc.gov and by traditional mail.
NEXUS’s proposed pipeline would transport natural gas across Ohio and through Michigan to a processing hub in Canada. The natural gas would originate from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of Ohio and West Virginia.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.