AG Candidate Joins Lawmakers, Stakeholders to Criticize FirstEnergy Plan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – JAC Management Group is working on the biggest event in the company’s history for Wean Park, but the event will be scuttled if FirstEnergy is permitted to move forward with its proposal to string high-tension power lines along the Mahoning River in Youngstown, said JAC’s Eric Ryan.

The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre was the backdrop Friday morning for a news conference featuring opponents of FirstEnergy’s plan, which is awaiting approval by the Ohio Power Siting Board. 

The JAC event, which would take place this summer, would bring tens of thousands of people to Wean Park, as well as millions of dollars and create employment opportunities for hundreds, Ryan said. But FirstEnergy’s plan to string the 138-kilovolt power line along a route that runs behind the city-owned Covelli Centre, Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and Wean Park would imperil the event, he said. 

“It’s not going to happen if this project goes forward,” he warned. “Listen to what we’re saying and tell me whether or not it is remotely a good idea to do this. It is not.”

Through a spokeswoman, FirstEnergy has said the line is needed to improve reliability for downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and to increase capacity for future economic development. 

At the news conference, Ryan was joined by several area officeholders and candidates for office, all Democrats. 

Headlining the group was state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman of Parma, who represents the 15th district in Ohio’s House of Representatives and is running for Ohio attorney general. 

A nonvoting member of the state power siting board, Crossman said the power line proposal is not on the agenda for next Thursday’s meeting of the board. He said that he was on a “fact-finding mission” at the invitation of state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan and her husband, former state Sen. Bob Hagan. 

“Now is a good time to get involved and talk,” he said. Citizens still have the opportunity to have their voices heard by talking and writing to siting board members. 

Crossman acknowledged that people have reason to “mistrust the process,” based on FirstEnergy’s history, including the recent bribery scandal surrounding its efforts to get legislation passed that provided a bailout for two nuclear plants operated by a subsidiary. 

Additionally, he pointed to FirstEnergy’s bribery of Sam Randazzo, former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and PUCO Attorney Examiner Greg Price’s role in investigating the House Bill 6 scandal. Price subsequently recused himself following the disclosure of his role in the legislation before its passage in 2019.   

“Millions of dollars have gone into the revitalization of downtown Youngstown, and for this proposal to proceed as planned would significantly hinder and insult the progress that we’ve made in our community,” said Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown. 

“It’s a beautiful project,” Crossman agreed.

Before the news conference, he said Bob Hagan was telling him about “the eyesore” that existed on the site previously and what it took to construct the recreational assets there now. “We don’t want it ruined by a project that hasn’t been well thought out or hasn’t had community input like it should,” he said. 

Hagan, who is running against state Sen. Mike Rulli, R-33 Salem, recited a range of reasons the project as proposed is a bad idea. He listed its impact on the riverfront recreational assets, as well as other downtown Youngstown economic development projects, the environment and aesthetics. 

“It’s important to talk about the use of the infrastructure to divide and create barriers in struggling communities like Youngstown since the days of the redlining in the 1950s and 1960s. There has been a use of housing, highways, roads, bridges and rail lines that run directly through the communities of color,” he said. “Now we are seeing this modern day example using utility infrastructure.”

First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver noted that FirstEnergy was involved with the Fifth Avenue and Wick Avenue upgrades and the riverfront area, in which utility cables were put underground. He speculated that the city “made enemies” with the development of the riverfront assets and the DoubleTree by Hilton that attract people downtown from throughout the area. 

“We’re finally making progress,” he said. City residents are concerned about their utility bills going up because FirstEnergy has said costs of placing the line underground would need to be passed on to ratepayers, Oliver added. 

“This isn’t just about physical infrastructure power. This is about bringing power to people,” said Derrick McDowell, community engagement and inclusion coordinator for the Wean Park complex and owner of the Youngstown Flea. “You give power to people when you hear them, when you hear their concerns.”

Crossman said the power line proposal remains in administrative view and he does not think other members of the siting board are aware of it. The proposal probably isn’t appropriate to discuss at next week’s meeting, but he intends to put a letter on the record in support of bringing attention to the issue, he said. 

Pictured: Those speaking out against the proposed FirstEnergy project included Eric Ryan of JAC Management Group; Derrick McDowell, community engagement and inclusion coordinator for the Wean Park complex and owner of the Youngstown Flea; state Rep. Jeffrey Crossman, D-15; state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58; First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver; former state Sen. Bob Hagan; and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Lauren McNally.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.