NEXUS offers Oberlin City Council $100,000

To violate its own laws

By Ian Feather | ifeather@oberlin.edu | March 9, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

Construction of the NEXUS pipeline in Michigan; mid-January, 2018. Taken from a weekly summary report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Environment Compliance Monitoring Program.

Photo courtesy of the Medina Gazette.

Note: this article was submitted prior to the February 20th City Council meeting, where the settlement offer from Enbridge Inc. was discussed for the second time.

Since 2014, Enbridge Inc. has had plans to construct a 255-mile pipeline that would transport fracked natural gas from eastern Ohio, through Michigan, and into Canada. Locally, the so-called NEXUS pipeline is routed to go through the southern part of Oberlin, potentially putting dozens of residences on Reserve Avenue, the Oberlin Fire Department, and Splash Zone all at physical and financial risk if the pipeline is successfully constructed.

Before February 7th, two Ohio communities remained united in opposing the plans of Enbridge to force a pipeline through their respective public lands. Oberlin was one, and the nearby city of Green was the other. On the night of February 7th, however, the Green City Council voted 4-3 to accept a $7.5 million settlement from Enbridge Inc., allowing construction in that community to go forward.

Oberlin remains as the only city, town, or village along the entire proposed 255-mile route of the NEXUS pipeline in opposition to the impending construction. However, the city has its own settlement offer from Enbridge Inc.–in this case for a much smaller amount of $100,000. Now, the Oberlin City Council must decide whether or not it will follow the decision of Green and wave a white flag of surrender, a decision that would explicitly violate its own Community Bill of Rights and Obligations (CBRO).

On the evening of February 5th, City Council had their first hearing on the ordinance pertaining to the settlement. While four of the six council members at the meeting were in favor of voting immediately on the ordinance, doing so would have required a unanimous vote. Therefore, two more hearings will follow before a final decision on the settlement is made.

At the meeting, all of the council members who indicated that they would vote in favor of the settlement proposal (Bryan Burgess, Kristin Peterson, Ronnie Rimbert, and Kelley Singleton) expressed that they were doing so not as a show of support for the NEXUS project, but rather because they believe construction of the pipeline within Oberlin is inevitable, with or without the settlement. In their minds, it would be better to accept the $100,000 from Enbridge Inc., rather than not gain any money and otherwise experience the same result. To council members Heather Adelman and Linda Slocum and all but one of the almost two dozen members of the public who made comments, however, this point of view was either disagreeable, not relevant to the larger symbolic significance of the vote, or both.

Oberlin College third-year and member of Students for Energy Justice (SEJ), Alex Chuang (they/them/theirs), was one of several Oberlin College students to make public comments during the meeting in opposition to the settlement offer. Like many other members of the public who spoke in opposition to the pipeline, Chuang recognized the long odds currently faced by Oberlin in this battle. Nonetheless, they expressed their belief that any financial harm that can be done to Enbridge through Oberlin’s resistance, such as further delaying construction, will contribute to the larger battle against both the fossil fuel industry and powerful multinational corporations. “We’re talking about something much bigger than NEXUS, much bigger than Oberlin […] it’s about a global struggle against fossil fuels and climate change,” they said at the meeting. This sentiment reflects the fact that the NEXUS pipeline project does not exist in a vacuum–one only has to look at other Enbridge Inc. pipeline projects to see this.

Enbridge Inc. is responsible for the planned Line 3 replacement project, which would double the oil-transporting capacity of the existing Line 3 pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin. In addition to environmental activists, this project has also faced intense opposition from indigenous rights activists; according to Honor the Earth, an indigenous environmental justice non-profit, the construction of the pipeline would explicitly violate the treaty rights of several different indigenous groups, threatening their land, water, and air. Furthermore, according to the Polaris Institute, a research non-profit, Enbridge Inc. pipelines have been responsible for more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010. The most notable of these spills happened in 2010 in Michigan, when over 1 million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River.

The previously mentioned 2013 ordinance establishing a Community Bill of Rights and Obligations (CBRO) served as an important legal precedent used at the council meeting against accepting the settlement offer. The CBRO, passed into city law in 2013 with over 70% of the vote of Oberlin residents, has the purpose of “prohibiting gas and oil extraction and related activities,” as well as “subordinating the privileges bestowed on certain corporations to the rights and governance of the people.” To even the untrained legal eye, it would seem that such language would dictate that the City Council vote unanimously against the settlement offer from Enbridge Inc., or at least let the Oberlin public vote upon it. Nonetheless, the opportunity for official input by the public has been limited to the three-minute-each comments that Oberlin residents were allowed to make at the meeting regarding the settlement, which is also the case for every other ordinance that comes before the City Council.

Yet another type of position voiced in opposition to the settlement by the public during the February 5th City Council meeting pertained to the monetary aspect of the settlement offer. Community member Matt Adelman (he/him/his) used part of his three minutes to cite the fact that the annual budget for Oberlin is approximately $36.2 million, and thus the $100,000 settlement offer represented a very small fraction of this sum. He described the settlement offer as being akin to “if you had $362 in your pocket, somebody offering you $1 for the safety, health, and wellbeing of your friends.”

For clarification, the large difference in settlement offers between Oberlin and Green can likely be explained by the fact that Enbridge Inc. needs several linear miles of the land within Green’s municipal limits, and only around 50-100 feet of Oberlin’s in order to construct the NEXUS pipeline. Nonetheless, Adelman was correct in pointing out just how small of a fraction $100,000 is in comparison to the total annual budget of Oberlin. Furthermore, none of the councilmembers who expressed a desire to vote in favor of the settlement expressed a distinct need for the money within the community, nor any ideas for what the money could be used for.

The Oberlin City Council will soon be forced to decide what type of role the community will play going forward, at least from a legal point of view–both as it pertains to the larger resistance movement against the NEXUS pipeline, as well as its centuries-old legacy as a fearless, sometimes solitary fighter of injustice.

Contact staff writer Ian Feather at ifeather@oberlin.edu.

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