A plan to route a major gas pipeline through Blue Ash has sparked pushback from residents

Members of Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Expansion, or NOPE, say they’re concerned about the safety of a proposed Duke Energy pipeline.

Jun 1, 2016 at 10:14 am
click to enlarge Critics of the pipeline are concerned about it passing through populated areas like Blue Ash Elementary, the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College, Summit Park and Kenwood Towne Center.
Critics of the pipeline are concerned about it passing through populated areas like Blue Ash Elementary, the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College, Summit Park and Kenwood Towne Center.

Back in late February, Glenn Rosen received an unassuming letter from Duke Energy. The Blue Ash resident gets mail from the electricity company all the time, usually about mundane things like slight rate adjustments. But this letter was about something bigger.

The notice informed residents like Rosen that a 30-inch natural gas pipeline has been proposed for an area within 500 feet of their properties. That route would go either behind the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash campus or in front, where it would also pass Blue Ash Elementary School and Blue Ash KinderCare. Rosen started telling his neighbors, and their concern grew into a group formally opposing the project.

“I got my initial notice from Duke about potentially having to do some pipeline stuff,” Rosen says, “and the following weekend, I decided to go knock on some people’s doors and draft a petition. I basically got 48 out of 52 houses on my street to sign.”

Members of Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Expansion, or NOPE, say they’re concerned about the safety of the pipeline, as well as the values of their properties, and would like to see it rerouted to a less populated area. Duke says pipelines through urban locations aren’t uncommon in the region, that the proposed gas line’s location has been thoroughly vetted and that safety concerns aren’t necessary.

Now, citing high-profile gas pipeline incidents in other states, NOPE is working on wrangling with the power company to get the pipeline moved elsewhere. A group of more than 180 concerned Hamilton County residents attended a NOPE meeting May 25 at the Blue Ash Civic League, during which they voiced their opposition to Duke Energy’s proposed Central Corridor Pipeline Extension.

The grassroots group is small, with a little over 200 Facebook likes, but it has garnered the support of several community councils and political leaders including the Blue Ash City Council; State Rep. Jonathan Dever, a Republican from Madiera; State Rep. Denise Driehaus, a Democrat from Clifton; and the Hamilton Board of County Commissioners.

“As soon a people came to the realization that what Duke was intending to do versus how they communicated it, it kind of took on a life of its own, a speed of its own,” Rosen says.

The pipeline will extend from an existing gas main near where Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties meet to an existing gas main near Norwood station, or the Red Bank Road area, and will be placed three to four feet underground, according to Duke.

“It will connect with the one up top and

then it’ll go down and connect with the ones lower,” says Sally Thelen, a corporate communications representative for Duke. “So it’s the second part or the extension, which is why we’re calling it the Central Extension, of the pipe we put in in ’03.”

Thelen said through email correspondence that each proposed route will affect roughly 500 customers and that while third- party damage does account for most of the pipeline incidents, putting one in an urban setting isn’t unprecedented.

“Eighty percent of our large diameter pipelines in Hamilton County would be high-pressure types of pipelines, similar to the line that we’re proposing, that I would describe in an urban setting, for example, going through neighborhoods and public streets,” Thelen said.

Duke surveyed more than 200 locations for the pipeline and decided on three routes, which are highlighted with maps on its website. The pink, orange and green lines snake through different sections of Cincinnati suburbs, but they all cut through Blue Ash at some point.

The electricity company held two informational meetings a month after the initial letter was sent, one in the Sycamore Township Community Center and another at Pleasant Ridge Montessori. According to Thelen, about 50 people attended each one.

Ronna Lucas, one of the core members of NOPE, doesn’t think the group will stop the pipeline from being constructed. She just wants to reroute it through a less populated area. Lucas is also concerned about the safety of the pipeline, especially after a highly publicized recent case where a similarly designed pipeline exploded in rural Pennsylvania. 

That explosion happened April 29 in Salem Township, about 28 miles east of Pittsburgh. One person received third-degree burns over 75 percent of his body and some homes were damaged by the blast, which caused a 12-foot deep hole in the ground and flung a 25-foot piece of the pipe 100 feet. Experts believe the explosion might have been caused by corrosion in the 34-year-old pipe.

Critics of the pipeline fear something similar could happen in the populated areas around the two proposed routes for the lines, which run past busy spots like Blue Ash Elementary, UC Blue Ash College and Summit Park. One proposed route runs through the Kenwood Towne Center as well.

Perry Leitner has owned Blue Ash-based Leitner Electric Company since 1978. He spoke out at the NOPE meeting, saying that he wasn’t opposed to the nature of the pipeline, but rather to the location of it.

“Converting to natural gas is not a bad idea,” Leitner said. “What is a bad idea is to run a transmission line through densely populated areas. In the past, these lines have run through rural communities.”

Thelen said there were significant environmental and ecological impacts involved in installing the route in a more rural area and that while cost is not the critical component in deciding the route, a route in a mostly rural region would cost more.

State Rep. Dever, whose backyard would undergo construction as part of one of the proposed lines, will be meeting with Duke to gather more information.

“I think the area of concern is that the pipeline would go into backyards where kids play in the communities,” Dever said. “I think there needs to be a balance when we talk about the need for infrastructure and the need to supply energy to our region that’s cost effective, affordable and —— to the extent we can make it clean — clean. But there is a concern about the risk associated with putting something like this through a neighborhood, from a safety perspective.”

Dever has also written a letter of opposition to the Ohio Power Siting Board, the committee that will pick one of Duke’s routes or refuse to grant permission entirely. The board is made of up members from several subcommittees, and the decision will rest largely on The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

If the board grants permission to Duke, several members of NOPE say they will continue fighting the pipeline. The group is still reaching out for support from experts who would devise a new plan.

The company will present two proposed routes to the Ohio Power Siting Board before the end of June. ©