Journal Opinion: Lights Out on FirstEnergy Proposal

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Stakeholders in downtown Youngstown are charged up over a proposal by FirstEnergy to string a new power line along the Mahoning River, where nearly $60 million has been spent to develop riverfront assets. 

Now that the old industrial dams are finally being removed from the Mahoning River, communities along the corridor are making plans to capitalize on the new opportunities for recreation and economic development that the waterway presents.

In Youngstown, however, city officials, downtown business owners and those who believe in the economic restorative power of the Mahoning River find themselves in a fight to preserve the integrity of the redevelopment that has been accomplished.

FirstEnergy, through a subsidiary, is seeking permission from the Ohio Power Siting Board to run a high-tension power line and erect towers along the river – in particular, along the area where the city and its partners have, over the past two decades, spent millions of dollars to remove old industrial buildings, remediate sites and construct an arena, amphitheater and riverfront park. 

FirstEnergy argues that the above-ground, 138-kilovolt line that would run about six miles, and connect its Riverbend and Lincoln Park substations, is needed to improve reliability for downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Opponents of the plan comprise Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, City Council, people who operate businesses and nonprofits downtown, and advocates of river restoration. They argue that the power line and towers could disrupt the sound systems at the Covelli Centre and Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and would greatly spoil the visual presented by the riverfront.

Certainly the thousands of FirstEnergy customers who continue to endure a wave of power outages (including planned outages downtown during regular business hours!) would agree that the utility needs to improve the reliability of its service.

We appreciate that FirstEnergy’s proposal may represent a less expensive plan than burying the power lines – which could present other problems – or running the lines along another route that avoids the riverfront.

Still, it’s mind-boggling that FirstEnergy would propose stringing power lines and erecting towers along property where millions of redevelopment dollars have been invested. These recreational assets draw people from the Mahoning Valley and beyond – visitors who patronize downtown restaurants, bars, shops and other venues.

As more than one critic of the plan points out, FirstEnergy had no problem coming up with $60 million to bribe state lawmakers so they would pass a nuclear plant bailout bill.   

FirstEnergy’s proposal ignores the planning and spending by local leaders and investors to capitalize on the riverfront, directly and indirectly.

It’s time to turn the lights out on this plan and for FirstEnergy to come up with a brighter idea.