BLUE ASH, Ohio — A crowded town hall meeting on Wednesday became the latest salvo in a years-long conflict between members of a grassroots activist group and Duke Energy over the company’s plans to install a gas pipeline extension spanning from Fairfax to Blue Ash.
Although members of NOPE — Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Extension — have regularly protested the project since 2016, Wednesday’s effort to win new converts and embolden current members had a new urgency.
If the group is unsuccessful in persuading the Ohio Siting Board that placing the extension under residential neighborhoods is too dangerous, it could be approved by the end of the summer.
"There's a huge safety risk,” member Jared Newman said.
He and other members have claimed the pipeline creates risks of explosions that could injure or kill people living nearby.
Duke spokeswoman Sally Thelen said that fear is overblown.
“It’s been probably a decade since we built any kind of large scale lines of on the Ohio side,” she said. “So, I think just not having done any recently, I think that there’s just a little bit of a misconception that it’s not something we do and not something we’ve done regularly.”
They need to do it soon, however. Thelen said the pipeline will replace and supplement aging underground infrastructure.
Moreover, she said, the company has repeatedly changed its plan for the pipeline in response to community concerns. The pressure in the current plan is lower than it would have been in 2016, and the design calls for a pipeline 20 inches in diameter rather than the original 30.
Newman wasn’t satisfied.
“There’s a visceral fear when you realize that this is something that could affect you and that’s why so many people come out here,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can make a strong case and that the amount of opposition that’s here will make them reconsider.”
The Ohio Power Siting Board will hear public feedback between 3 — 8 p.m. in a March 21 hearing at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash.
A decision on whether the project will be allowed to move forward could come in late summer or early fall.