By Tom Henry | BLADE STAFF WRITER
Published on Oct. 19, 2017
BOWLING GREEN — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a decision by the Wood County Board of Elections to let voters decide Nov. 7 if they want to amend the Bowling Green city charter to prevent more pipeline construction.
Wood County Board of Elections Director Terry Burton told The Blade he intends to keep the “Community Rights to a Healthy Environment and Livable Climate” proposal on the ballot as a result of the ruling, but wanted to speak first with County Prosecutor Paul Dobson before elaborating.
Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney representing citizens who gathered signatures for the ballot initiative, called the decision “a big win.” He said what appears to be a 4-3 vote in favor of upholding the board’s decision could actually be construed as unanimous because the dissent was focused on the eligibility of five signatures, not the constitutionality of the issue itself. Those two issues were handled separately.
“We’re extremely happy,” Mr. Lodge said.
A last-minute challenge, five days after the board’s decision to place the matter on the ballot, was filed by resident David W. Espen, who could not be reached for comment.
The goal of the citizen-led ballot initiative is “to reassert some local control for citizens that has completely gone amok,” Mr. Lodge said, referring to a frustration many residents have expressed about the process NEXUS Gas Transmission and other companies used through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to gain approval for their pipeline easements.
The charter amendment does not specify NEXUS, but would generically forbid placement of more fossil-fuel pipelines through city-owned land if approved by voters.
The language would create a right for the city to be “free from new infrastructure for fossil fuel transportation within the city of Bowling Green or on property owned by the city of Bowling Green, except for infrastructure to transport fossil fuels to end-users within Wood County,” according to ballot language approved by the Wood County Board of Elections.
Other language in the charter amendment would allow residents to enforce the law through nonviolent direct actions if the city does not enforce it.
The county elections board certified 715 petition signatures from registered votes on Aug. 18, enough for placement on the ballot, which the board ultimately did on Sept. 6.
Joe DeMare, a ballot initiative supporter and former Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, said he and other members of the Wood County Green Party are pleased voters will have their say.
“The Wood County Green Party fully supports the idea of prohibitions against fossil fuel infrastructure and granting rights to natural ecosystems,” he said. “We are very happy with this decision.”
Joseph Fawcett, Bowling Green assistant municipal administrator, told The Blade in September the charter amendment was proposed in response to a natural gas pipeline in Wood County’s Middleton Township, nine miles outside Bowling Green’s city limits. The city’s water-treatment plant is in that township.
The proposed amendment “would materially change the charter and drastically alter the basic framework of our city government, how it operates, and how all laws are enforced,” he said. “The BG community has historically rejected placing issues in the charter; rather, the community has chosen to openly debate such issues during public meetings and allowing city council to vote on such issues.”
In November, 2016, Waterville residents passed a similar charter amendment to protect their community from pipelines.