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    Ohio critics hope bats might slow down pipeline project

    CLEVELAND — Opponents of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline expected to be built across the northern half of Ohio are clinging to the wings of a furry flier, the northern long-eared bat, in their efforts to at least delay the $2 billion project.

    The existence of the threatened species remains one of the impediments the partnership between Houston-based Spectra Energy and Detroit’s DTE Energy faces before receiving expected approval to build the 255-mile long Nexus pipeline.

    The pipeline will be capable of transporting 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day from the shale fields of Appalachia into Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

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    Nexus cleared a big hurdle in November when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an environmental impact statement that found no problems with the company’s proposed route.

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    Nexus now awaits the commission’s approval to begin construction.

    Opponents of the project in Ohio’s Summit and Medina counties aren’t backing down from a fight that began with efforts to get the pipeline rerouted away from homes and businesses to less populated areas.

    The commission ruled in the impact statement that alternative routes proposed by the city of Green in southern Summit County held no environmental advantages over the one proposed by Nexus.

    The existence of northern long-eared bats, classified as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, along the proposed route means Nexus isn’t completely out of the woods.

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    The bats live in caves and other sheltered spots during winter months and nest in trees during spring and summer. Their threatened status means trees in their habitats are not supposed to be felled between April 1 and Sept. 30.

    Pipeline opponents hope the bats will cause further delays if the commission doesn’t allow the company to fell trees after March 31.

    ‘‘Time is our friend and their foe,’’ said Jon Strong, of Medina County, where about 450 feet of the pipeline is slated to be built along the edge of his property.

    A Nexus spokesman said in an e-mail that the pipeline remains on schedule to be completed and ready to ship gas late this year.

    In the environmental impact statement, Nexus said it is preparing a contingency plan if the company needs to cut down trees during spring and summer that would include data on the number of bats likely to be killed.

    Associated Press