A controversial natural gas pipeline project planned for parts of Northeast Ohio is becoming even more controversial. Opponents of the proposed project claim someone has been sending fake letters to federal regulators, trying to encourage them to support it.
"I knew nothing of it, I mean, I read it in the paper, but it's not anywhere near running here," said Hinckley resident Dorean Wolford.
Wolford says she was stunned when someone called her, asking about a letter with her name on it, written in support of the NEXUS pipeline project.
The proposed 255 mile natural gas pipeline would begin in eastern Ohio, go through the state including Medina County, then to Michigan and into Canada. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, would have to approve the pipeline before construction could begin.
"Why would someone be using my name, along with other people's names," she said.
"I noticed there was like 50 letters, almost in a row, were being placed on the FERC docket, and they were all similar, they all had similar style, they had no signature, no date, and they were all mailed," said Paul Wohlfarth, who opposes the pipeline.
Wohlfarth, who lives in Michigan, is among several people leading the fight against the pipeline's path. Wednesday, his attorney filed a complaint with federal regulators after discovering what he believes could be up to 300 phony letters sent in support of the project.
In the complaint, Wohlfarth calls the letters "forged and/or falsified" and says "in one instance, the party purportedly signing the letter has been deceased since 1998."
"I looked up about 30 people and I got 14 to 16 to respond and not one said they wrote the letters, they were all fraudulent," he said.
"Anyone who feels that that letter that was sent, does not reflect their views about the project to please let us know," said Tamara Young-Allen, spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
She says it is up to the U-S Postal Service, not them, to investigate.
"It's the substance of the comments that are contained within the letter, not necessarily the quantity of letters," said Young-Allen.
"We just can't believe that, that they would weigh fraudulent letters and basically a popularity contest and allow someone to stuff the ballot box so to speak," said Wohlfarth.
Young-Allen says if the allegations are true, it is the first time she has ever heard of anything like that happening at FERC.
The deadline for sending comments about the project was Monday, but people are still encouraged to send them in.
FERC will not remove the letters in question, but anyone who believes a letter is there that they didn’t write, can send another one refuting it.
No word on when the commission will make a recommendation on the pipeline project.
Attorneys for the pipeline opponents have now taken their complaints to the U.S. Department of Energy, the EPA and the U.S. Postal Service.