Journal Opinion: Not in Our Front Yard

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – These words by the noted anthropologist come to mind as we reflect on the successful grassroots campaign to prevent construction of a 138-kilovolt transmission line on a path that would have stretched along the Mahoning River through downtown Youngstown.

According to FirstEnergy, which sought the transmission line through a subsidiary, the intent was to provide more reliable power to downtown and nearby neighborhoods, which have seen many power outages in recent years.

As a business that operates downtown and has had to endure many of these outages – planned and unplanned – we understand the need to stabilize power transmission. But the path proposed by FirstEnergy would have conflicted with community assets such as Covelli Centre, Wean Park and Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

As we offered in an earlier editorial, a proposal that might have made sense when the river served as a resource for long-gone industry today is ridiculous when so much money – some $60 million – has been invested to develop entertainment and recreational assets. More investment is likely to come as old dams are removed from the river.

We are not proponents of knee-jerk “NIMBY” – not in my backyard. But we believe Youngstown stakeholders are perfectly justified in declaring, “not in our front yard.” Too much effort, time and treasure has been invested to reclaim former industrial land and develop assets that bring people downtown.

In response to the power line proposal, a coalition of Youngstown stakeholders mobilized opposition, raising concerns ranging from the aesthetic impact of the lines and towers to interference with sound systems operated by the entertainment venues.

These stakeholders included Youngstown CityScape and its Downtown Youngstown Partnership; downtown businesses and organizations; elected officials from City Council, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, state and federal representatives; and hundreds of citizens who sent postcards and letters calling on the Ohio Power Siting Board to reject the permit request.

The board unanimously found that the project could not demonstrate that it met the “public interest, convenience and necessity” as Ohio law requires, said Jenifer French, Siting Board chairman.

“Public interest, convenience and necessity should be and is examined through a broad lens,” French said. This considers not only public interest in reliable electrical service but also the impact on recreation, cultural resources, regional planning and the prosperity of the community, she explained.

The coalition that formed to oppose the power line is to be commended. In a political world that’s determined to prove you can’t fight city hall – or Columbus, or a monopoly utility or millions of dollars in campaign contributions – local stakeholders demonstrated that their voices mattered.