A Toledo attorney representing a dozen Fulton County property owners refusing to allow land surveys for the NEXUS pipeline project said they will likely be subjected to a request for an emergency restraining order.
He believes, however, such a request could be fought down.
Terry Lodge said he’s confident the legal division of the NEXUS Gas Transmission partnership will have made the request in Fulton County Common Pleas Court by the beginning of this week. Lodge said as of Monday the request may already have been filed.
NEXUS has sent several letters to each local property owner who has refused to permit its surveyors onto their land. The latest letter, received June 16 and entitled, “Notice of Intent to Enter Land to Survey,” states the surveys are permitted under Ohio Revised Code sections 163.03 and 1723.01.
Contract surveyors already have begun visiting the properties where the letters were sent. NEXUS has hired off-duty Fulton County sheriff’s deputies to accompany them for safety purposes.
But Lodge expects the NEXUS partnership of Spectra Energy of Texas and DTE Energy of Michigan to file for a temporary emergency restraining order in Fulton County, as it did recently in neighboring Wood County, and in Erie County. The restraining order would allow the survey team legal access to private properties.
The attorney said NEXUS typically files for a restraining order on short notice, claiming urgency in completing the surveys. He said the emergency request is a tactic that gives property owners little or no time to hire legal representation.
But that doesn’t mean a restraining order will be granted, Lodge said. The request made in a Wood County court was denied. The court gave Lodge, who is representing seven landowners there against NEXUS, until June 26 to submit legal arguments. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled Tuesday afternoon.
“We had an unexpected victory in Bowling Green,” Lodge said. “There are some snags to their argument, and that’s what we’re maintaining in court. We’re making the argument that it’s premature time-wise to go on people’s property. We’re kind of optimistic.”
Paul Wolfarth, a member of the local chapter of the Coalition to Re-Route NEXUS (CORN), said survey teams NEXUS has subcontracted from Universal Pegasus, a Houston, Texas firm, were spreading out across Fulton County the week of June 22. Other teams were in Medina, Columbiana, Lorain, and Erie counties.
“I find it particularly galling (that) unemployment is up in Fulton County, yet we have all these workers coming into this area. It’s a no-win situation,” Wolfarth said. “According to NEXUS propaganda, we were to gain local jobs from the pipeline project.”
He also claims the NEXUS letters and subsequent visits by surveyors with law enforcement escorts have intimidated property owners.
“(T)he implied threat is often overwhelming the average landowner,” Wolfarth said. He also claims some have been advised in court that, should they successfully delay the pipeline project, “it will be beyond their ability to fully compensate NEXUS for its injuries.”
Wolfarth said, “They don’t think they need permission or a court order. They think they can come on with a deputy and bully their way on.”
CORN member Liz Athaide-Victor said the recent letters were sent to residents along County Road 3, from County Road C to Airport Highway, and to residents on intersecting roads. She received calls of concern from about 20 of the recipients.
Athaide-Victor said NEXUS’ request for an emergency temporary restraining order would be nothing but a tactical maneuver to create a false deadline.
“There’s no real deadline. It’s their emergency deadline so they can make their money faster. I think it’s really transparent,” she said.
Randy and Renee Walker received their letter of intent from NEXUS but still refuse to allow surveyors on their County Road 3 property. The current proposed pipeline route passes within 200 feet of their house.
NEXUS representatives have come to their home and made numerous calls. They also have sat in vehicles on the road in front of the property, leading the Walkers to approach them and tell them they’re not welcome.
During the last such visit “the guy was real belligerent,” said Renee Walker, a CORN member. She said no sheriff’s deputies have accompanied the surveyors.
NEXUS spokesperson Arthur Diestel maintains that the partnership wants to work cooperatively with landowners. But he said the ORC gives surveyors the right to enter properties of those opposed to the project.
“Our goal is to try to avoid legal action,”he said. “We’re attempting to receive voluntary consent to conduct these surveys. We only resort to the state law when reasonable attempts to obtain land owner permission fail.”
He added,”We’re continuing to survey as we try to refine the study corridor. We don’t have our route.”
Diestel said under those circumstances it’s common practice to enlist the help of off-duty law enforcement officers for the safety of the survey crews. He added that, at present, surveyors are instructed to leave the premises if requested by the landowners.
He also addressed a widely-viewed photo taken by Renee Walker of a survey crew in Fulton County on June 22. Snapped with a zoom lens at a distance of 300 feet, the photo shows one crew member making an obscene hand gesture at the camera.
“We don’t condone the actions of that contract surveyor, and he is no longer working on the NEXUS project,” Diestel said. “The behavior in that picture is unacceptable, and does not represent the core values of the NEXUS team. We regret that incident.”
Every employee is trained to uphold NEXUS’ commitment to the project, he said, adding, “There will be zero tolerance.”
Calling it “a vast improvement,” Wolfarth said he learned recently that changes in the study corridor have placed a portion of the Oak Openings area outside the current route.
And due to constant revisions of the proposed pipeline’s route, some local residents whose property was once within the pipeline study corridor have received letters from NEXUS stating survey work is no longer required. Wolfarth said that is false reassurance.
If you think that means you’re off the hook, think again. Most of us, sadly, just don’t trust NEXUS,” he said.