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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2002

Opponents gush over cancellation of gas pipeline

TIFFIN - Opponents yesterday hailed a decision by a partnership of natural gas sellers to withdraw a proposal to build a controversial natural gas pipeline across northern Ohio and into Pennsylvania.

“I read one article that said, `Independence pulls the plug.' I like that terminology,” said Jim Harrison, a Fostoria-area farmer who chairs the Seneca County Landowners Association and is vice president of the Ohio-Pennsylvania Landowners Association.

Coastal Corp.'s ANR Pipeline Co. was a partner in the $680 million project with Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp. and National Fuel Gas Supply Corp.

But the group sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday informing the agency of its decision, FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young Allen said yesterday.

The partnership told the agency it did not have enough customers willing to buy its natural gas.

“They've asked us to asked to vacate their project,'' she said.

The pipeline would have cut through much of northwest Ohio. Under the proposal, the pipeline would have started in Defiance and run east through Henry, Wood, Seneca, and Huron counties before continuing to Leidy, Pa. It was expected to carry 916 million cubic feet of natural gas a day to eastern markets.

After a 15-day comment period, FERC commissioners will vote whether to approve the company's request to vacate the project. But it's not unusual for natural gas and other companies to withdraw applications - even after receiving approval from federal regulators, she said.

The decision is a victory for homeowners and farmers who protested the plans, arguing that the pipeline would come too close to their homes and damage drainage systems in northern Ohio's farm fields.

“What I really like was that they've filed a motion to vacate their certificate,” Mr. Harrison said. “That means the certificate granted in 2000 will be null and void. Nobody can buy it and use it. It will be completely abandoned. That's what we like from the landowners' standpoint.”

Despite the opposition, federal regulators approved construction of the pipeline in July. But they ordered the group to secure contracts for 71 percent of the pipeline's capacity before construction could begin.

The group wanted to build the Independence Pipeline to move gas from Chicago to New York. A second stretch of pipeline would extend 90 miles through parts of 10 New Jersey counties.

A message seeking comment left with ANR Pipeline Co. yesterday was not returned. But in its letter to federal regulators, the company said it didn't have “sufficient market support to proceed with the project as proposed.''

For five years, opponents have said the pipeline was unsafe and unnecessary. They flooded the federal agency with letters opposing the pipeline.

More recently, the group had focused its efforts on discouraging landowners from granting easements to the pipeline developers that would give the companies access to their land. Instead, the landowner groups said the companies should be forced to file eminent domain proceedings, a process through which the court sets a sale price that a property owner must accept.

“We probably had close to 25 percent of the footage on the entire pipeline route signed up into one group so if they would've decided to do this, we could've made them bleed,” Mr. Harrison said. “One attorney would have represented over 300 landowners but each case would have been heard separately in court.”

He said he didn't know if the developers were aware of the concerted effort to fight them in court and whether that factored into their decision to abandon the project.

“I do know that when you go to eminent domain, it starts to get costly on both sides,” he said. “We were hoping we wouldn't have to go that far.”



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