Medina County homeowners pack courtroom to block proposed pipeline

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MEDINA - Property owners packed a Medina County courtroom on Monday trying to defend their rights against those of a company intending to build a natural gas pipeline across the state.

The Nexus Natural Gas Delivery Pipeline would stretch from Columbiana County through 11 Ohio Counties delivering natural gas to destinations in Michigan and Ontario Canada. Court documents say en route it would affect approximately 3,479 tracts of land, including properties in Medina County, where some property owners have turned away surveyors for the company.

On Monday, attorneys for the gas company argued that Ohio law allows them to go onto private property to conduct surveys whether the property owners want them there or not. Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman has already issued an opinion believing that the surveyors are committing criminal trespass if they enter property where they are not welcome. Attorneys for the project say that is not consistent with opinions in other courts across the state.

"We believe that under Ohio law we have the right to enter your property and it's not a criminal trespass," said attorney Jim Hughes.

Hughes is seeking an injunction against the property owners who are turning away surveyors for the project. He argued the company is not seeking to acquire property for the pipeline, only to survey the properties along the route where the pipeline is proposed for "native species, geological formations, cultural artifacts and environmental issues, such as wetlands," said Hughes.

An attorney for property owners argued that they have rights too.

"A private property owner ought to be able to look at a gas company representative and decide whether they want to allow the survey or not and if I'm paying my mortgage payment and I'm paying my real estate taxes I would expect that I could say no I don't want you to do this," said Greg Huber.

Attorneys for the Nexus project also claim that the company will be irreparably harmed if the project is not completed by November 2017.

"That is a critical date, they will lose several million dollars per month that it is not online after 2017, their construction cost will go up and their reputation within the industry will be made," argued Hughes.

But property owner Donald Houston, addressing the court, argued that property owners could also potentially be harmed if the pipeline was to come through their properties.

"All of us property owners, when that pipeline gets shoved down our throats we are going to be harmed, and our heirs are going to be harmed forever, because we are going to be stuck with it forever they are going to make their money and they are going to go down the street but our families and our heirs are going to be stuck with it forever," said Houston.

Three property owners are named in the gas company's civil suit after Hughes announced one of the original four has now signed a document allowing surveyors on his property. But Houston argues that there are many many others, in addition to those named in the suit,  who have also objected to allowing surveyors on their property.

"We are not against the pipeline, we want it moved," said Sandy Schmelzer.

"Basically a private company trying to take private citizens property with no opportunity, no chance to basically say no," said Tim Dundr.

Attorneys for the Nexus project say they have already moved the pipeline from its originally planned route in more than 120 different locations based on what they have discovered doing their surveys.

Judge Collier said he will study the briefs filed by both sides, including rulings in previous similar cases, and will do his best to render a decision by the end of the week.