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Landowners Group Files Lawsuit to Stop Nexus Before It Starts

A group of more than 60 Ohio landowners is suing FERC and Nexus Gas Transmission LLC in an attempt to stop the company's proposed 255-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d natural gas pipeline.

In a lawsuit filed in an Ohio U.S. District Court Friday, the landowners group challenged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for Nexus, calling the agency's environmental review "arbitrary and capricious." The group asked the court to throw out the FEIS and prevent FERC from issuing a certificate for the project.

The landowners further asked the court to enjoin Nexus from "engaging in any activities to obtain access to property." Claiming Nexus "is an export pipeline" and thus would not "serve a public use or purpose," the group said granting eminent domain to the project would violate the Fifth Amendment.

Nexus is being co-developed by Spectra Energy Partners LP and Detroit-based DTE Energy. Spectra was acquired earlier this year by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. The project has signed up shippers for 59% of its proposed capacity, including agreements with Union Gas Ltd., DTE Gas Co., DTE Electric Co., CNX Gas Co. LLC, Noble Energy Inc., Chesapeake Energy Marketing Inc. and Columbia Gas of Ohio Inc., according to FERC filings.

Nexus, which would run from eastern Ohio to existing pipeline interconnects in southeast Michigan, is designed to open an additional pathway for Appalachian Basin gas to reach the Midwest and the Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada. FERC issued an FEIS for Nexus late last year, but the project is still awaiting a certificate order from the currently quorumless Commission.

According to the lawsuit, "the project places plaintiffs in jeopardy of physical injury with no consideration of plaintiffs' safety concerns due to a lack of safety setbacks; and forces plaintiffs to give up certain property rights to a foreign entity for that entity's financial gain." FERC has provided "misleading information" to landowners and "the FERC process offers plaintiffs no meaningful opportunity to contest the taking of their property and is deficient in many respects."

The landowners' complaint detailed a litany of objections to FERC's conclusions in the environmental review, claiming, among other things, that the agency's rejection of a preferred route alternative submitted by the city of Green, OH, was "objectively deficient."

The group also said FERC failed to adequately consider the impact of the project on property values and accused the agency of glossing over various potential environmental impacts. For instance, the group questioned the agency's conclusions on the pipeline's impacts to the Singer Lake Preserve or Bog near the city of Green and accused FERC of exhibiting a "callous disregard for old growth forests."

Echoing other pipelinechallengers that have taken issue recently with FERC's handling of rehearing requests, the group argued that it is seeking judicial relief prior to a certificate order in part because "due to the standard procedures employed by FERC, the rehearing and appeal process is illusory and is unable to prevent injury to the plaintiffs."

Asked about the lawsuit, Nexus spokesman Adam Parker said he couldn't comment on pending litigation but noted that the project "has undergone a rigorous environmental review and has been publicly evaluated for more than two years to ensure that the project's proposed design and construction will be conducted in accordance with applicable state and federal regulations.

"While Nexus' certificate application remains pending before the FERC, the record supporting the FEIS and application are complete and ready for prompt FERC approval once a quorum is restored. We are currently working with our contractors to develop a safe and responsible construction plan in order to meet our targeted in-service date in 4Q2017."

Nexus was a notable omission from a flurry of last-minute certificate orders issued prior to the February departure of former Chairman Norman Bay.

The project has faced pushback from Michigan regulators over affiliated contracts for its capacity. Michigan's attorney general recently claimed the project will be pushed back to 2018 due to FERC's lack of a quorum, though the Trump administration has since officially announced two nominees to join sitting Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable (Honorable will leave when her term expires at the end of June).

Meanwhile, the similarly-routed Rover Pipeline, another east-to-west Appalachian takeaway project, has also encountered pushback recently as it works to build through Ohio and commence service later this year.

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