Underground Pipeline Plan Surprises Commissioners, Draws Criticism

May 11, 2016

Perry Leitner holds a map of the proposed routes for a 12 mile underground natural gas pipeline.
Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU

Correction: Jim O'Reilly is a volunteer professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.   

Duke Energy plans to build a gas pipeline through Hamilton County and commissioners say the first they heard of it was when neighbors complained.

The Central Corridor Natural Gas Pipeline project would lay a 12 mile long, underground 30-inch steel pipeline from near where the Hamilton, Butler, and Warren County lines meet to Norwood or Fairfax.

Some people in Blue Ash are concerned about it running through residential areas.

"What I'm saying is, circumvent. Why go through Hamilton County? Why go through the city center when we can go around?" asked Perry Leitner of Blue Ash.

"Why not circumvent and… go into rural counties where we won't have to train a massive amount of first responders? Accidents happen, 20-30 years from now. These pipelines have life expectancies."

Commissioner Dennis Deters is criticizing what he calls a deficit of communication from the utility.

"I'm very disappointed that this project has come to this point where your county commission, the highest policy office in the county, is getting involved at this late point. That's concerning to me."

Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen says the utility did inform county administration about the plan, but "didn't connect" with commissioners. She says the project team met with leaders of the 12 affected municipalities and held two public hearings.

Commissioner Chris Monzel says, "I've asked the administration to come forward with a report on this matter and… the capabilities of this board of what we can and can't do. A lot of the public utility stuff is done through Columbus and the state with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO)."

Commissioner Todd Portune wrote to University of Cincinnati College of Law professor Jim O'Reilly asking what Hamilton County could do to stop the construction.

O'Reilly wrote back saying "Hamilton County lacks home rule authority to prevent pipeline construction. The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB, Bill Seitz, member) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have the authority to grant permission. PUCO may also have jurisdiction as to local connections, but the documentation shows an interstate pipeline so FERC has the dominant role. With one exception, FERC has never turned down a pipeline application."

Thelen expects the possible routes will be narrowed to two in June. She says a state board could choose a final plan within 90 days, or reject the proposals and send the utility back to the drawing board.