By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The petition to get a pipeline issue on Bowling Green’s November ballot cleared another hurdle Monday evening, when City Council voted unanimously to submit the petition to the Wood County Board of Elections to put the issue on the November ballot.
But council member Bob McOmber cautioned that unanimous support of putting the issue on the ballot did not mean City Council endorsed the measure. Council’s action was simply a formality to get the matter on the ballot, he said.
This was the second hurdle passed by the pipeline petition. The first was cleared Friday – just barely. A total of 1,230 signatures were collected on the petition. By law, to make it on the ballot, the petition needed 714 valid signatures. It had 715.
But two other hurdles remain.
One involves timing. There is some question if the pipeline petition was filed too late. There are different deadlines depending on the type of petition, so that issue will likely be decided by the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office.
The other involves content. It’s possible the petition won’t make the November ballot because it asks for powers that the city may not have the authority to give. Under Ohio House Bill 463, passed last year, the petition may not be within the purview of the city and may create constitutional conflicts.
City Attorney Mike Marsh said it will be up to the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office – not the city – to rule whether or not the petition was filed on time, and if the language of the charter amendment meets standards.
Three people spoke before City Council Monday evening, about the Nexus pipeline. Jennifer Karches repeated her plea that the city file a motion to intervene with the project. The other two, Brad Holmes and Laura Sanchez, asked that citizens be given a right to vote on the charter amendment.
“It’s important for all of us to take a stand,” Holmes said. “Most, if not all of us in this very room, get our water from the same source.”
And the Nexus pipeline would threaten that source of water, he said.
“We’re being impacted by Nexus and we’re being run over by corporations,” Sanchez said. She asked for a fair discussion on the charter amendment, and support from the city.
Council president Mike Aspacher reacted by claims by Holmes that the city has handled the charter amendment petition improperly. The city has followed the rules, and any statements otherwise are “absolutely not accurate,” Aspacher said. “The city is working judiciously” to get the issue on the ballot, he added.
The language of the proposed charter amendment is difficult to wade through, so the organization that filed the petition addressed each point in simpler terms. The petition calls for:
- Right to a healthy environment and livable climate. Bowling Green residents and the environment have the right to safe air, water, and land without contamination caused by oil and gas infrastructure projects (such as pipelines); this legislation does not restrict oil/gas consumption by Bowling Green residents.
- Right to enforcement. Bowling Green residents can non-violently enforce those rights if city officials and/or local courts do not; it cannot be deemed illegal for community members to attempt to peacefully enforce these rights.
- Right to enforcement against corporate rights. Corporations and business entities are denied personhood status in the eyes of the law if they violate the rights of people and nature protected by this amendment, and such entities are restricted from interfering with or overturning the rights expressed in this legislation.
- Right of local community self-government. Bowling Green residents can exercise their historically fundamental right of local community self-government to overturn unjust laws.
- Right of initiative lawmaking. Bowling Green residents possess the right to legislate in their own interest, including the ability to alter the law for the sake of strengthening and expanding their rights as expressed in this legislation.
Lisa Kochheiser, one of the petition organizers, said the charter amendment gives city residents a right to “peacefully enforce these rights.” That means, according to Kochheiser, giving people the right to hold sit-ins or put up blockades on roads to prevent deliveries.
“We’re talking about peaceful demonstration kind of stuff,” she said. “To try to stand up for our rights.”
Kochheiser said Bowling Green residents could do those types of protest now – but they would risk arrest. This charter amendment would make those actions legal.
Bowling Green Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett said the language of the charter amendment does raise some questions.
“If this goes on the ballot and gets passed by the residents, we will need to have some meetings” to determine exactly what the language means for the city and its citizens, Fawcett said.
The city has no official opinion on the charter amendment, Fawcett said.
Also at Monday’s meeting, a report from the mayor stated that the Bowling Green Regional Office of the Ohio EPA has reported that the agency is almost done reviewing the city’s list of concerns about the pipeline running so close to the city’s water treatment plant.