(WKBN) — The Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday voted unanimously to reject a plan by FirstEnergy to run high tension power lines behind the new amphitheatre and next to the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.
“Youngstown, Ohio, wants what every other community across the state of Ohio wants,” Mayor Tito Brown told the board after the decision was announced. “We want a quality of life, we want an opportunity to grow in our community. Your decision today has helped us do that. Thank you.”
The board’s decision ends, at least for now, what was a contentious four-month debate over the power line project, which was opposed by almost everyone, with interest in downtown Youngstown.
In a statement, FirstEnergy spokesperson Brittany Al Dawood said, “The goal of this project has always been to keep safe, reliable power flowing to downtown Youngstown businesses and residents in neighboring wards while supporting growth in the local economy. We remain committed to that goal while evaluating today’s decision and its impact on the project.”
Before the board voted, chairwoman Jenifer French explained the reason she favored rejection was that “the proposed project could not demonstrate that the project meets the public interest convenience and necessity as required by Ohio law.”
French said the placement of a transmission line must consider “the impact on recreation, cultural resources, regional planning and the prosperity of the local community and the state of Ohio.”
After FirstEnergy’s plan was made public in late January, 120 letters and comments were sent to the Siting Board opposing the project.
State Rep. Jeff Crossman of Parma, a non-voting member of the board, was the only other person who spoke at the meeting. Crossman, who visited the amphitheatre site, urged the board to reject the plan.
When asked if the outpouring of opposition swayed the board to reject the plan, Crossman said, “It was absolutely crucial. This is how democracy works. You have to have your voice heard. One hundred twenty people submitted public comments to the board and that was in large measure why the board voted the way it did.”
Afterward, State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, Youngstown City Councilman Julius Oliver and Derrick McDowell, owner of Youngstown Flea, held a news conference in Wean Park, near where the power lines would have run.
“I’m so happy that our voices were heard,” said Lepore-Hagan. “We should always make sure we’re not pushed around. We have to understand we can organize together.”
Oliver called it “a great day for the city of Youngstown,” calling the issue with FirstEnergy, “David…against a Goliath.”
“We’ve never railed against the idea that this project is necessary,” said McDowell.
The slogan used by people in Youngstown opposing the project was: “Right Project, Wrong Location.”
“The project is needed, they just picked the wrong location and unfortunately, they’ve gotta go back to the drawing board and find the right location. The fact that the citing board listened to our outcry. It was really a collective group that went out and said, ‘No, you can’t do this where we’ve invested $60 million,'” said Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management Group.
McDowell urged FirstEnergy to “come to the city of Youngstown and spare no expense to do the right thing.”
During her statement, chairwoman French said what the Siting Board has learned is there’s “a need to upgrade the electric transmission grid in the Youngstown-Campbell area.”
She urged FirstEnergy to “work with the community to come up with a new plan.”
FirstEnergy has 30 days to file an appeal with the Ohio Power Siting Board. If it’s denied again, the next step would be to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.