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City of Toledo officially files lawsuit against Block Communications for Summit Street expenses

In 2020, city officials said Toledo was responsible for the cost of moving the lines. Now, the city is suing Buckeye Broadband to pay for the move instead.
Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 3:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The City of Toledo has officially filed suit against Block Communications (in their capacity as Buckeye Broadband and Buckeye Cable) to recoup funds spent moving the company’s utility lines for the Summit Street reconstruction project. The lawsuit was filed in the Lucas County Court of Common Please late Friday afternoon, one day after city officials said they planned to do so.

The suit follows a series of questions surrounding the project, including questioning from federal investigators and discussions of a city council resolution aimed at recouping the money.

Block Communications Inc. issued a statement shortly after the announcement, saying that the project was established for aesthetic reasons and that the city of Toledo was responsible for its costs.

We are deeply disappointed that the City has decided to file a lawsuit against BCI because the facts and law are clear. The Summit Street Improvement Project was all about improving the look and feel of downtown Toledo to, as the Mayor has repeatedly said, putting its best foot forward. Portraying the City in a positive light is wonderful, but that should not come at a substantial unjustified expense to BCI.

BCI statement

According to documents obtained by 13abc, the City of Toledo paid out more than $972,000 to move the Buckeye Broadband lines, while other utility providers had to foot the bill themselves. Among those documents is an e-mail sent by Toledo’s Director of Law explaining that the expenditure was deemed the city’s responsibility as the project was an “aesthetic” change. In an interview with 13abc’s Lee Conklin on Thursday, however, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said Buckeye Broadband had threatened legal action over the issue and, hoping to avoid delays on the project, city officials chose to move forward.

Earlier this week, city administrators told 13abc it supports efforts by City Councilmember Rob Ludeman in determining a path forward, including litigation, in recovering the money. Ludeman announced his intention to recover the money during a city council meeting on Tuesday.

“For several weeks, the City of Toledo has been exploring ways to best protect the long-term interests of its citizens regarding various issues related to the Summit Street project,” a statement from a city spokesperson read. “As we’ve said before, the administration intends to work with City Council on any effort that would help recover costs owed to the City of Toledo.”

On Wednesday, a citizen’s group threatened to sue the City of Toledo if it would not move to require Buckeye Broadband to reimburse the city for the cost of moving the utility lines by Friday at noon. The group includes former mayor Carty Finkbeiner on behalf of residents, voters, and taxpayers.

According to the letter to the city by the citizen’s group, Mayor Kapszukiewicz signed an ordinance into law appropriating $10.5 million for the Summit Street project in May of 2020. Just weeks later, city administrators amended that ordinance to pay additional money to contractors, with more than $617,000 for the purpose of compensating a subcontractor to relocate Buckeye Broadband’s fibre optic cables.

Through a public records request, the 13abc I-team uncovered an email from September of last year discussing legislation for $600,0000 for relocation of utilities.

An accompanying spreadsheet then listed the more than $972,000 the city already spent from its capital budget to move the Buckeye Broadband lines. The chart doesn’t mention any other payments to move other lines, but it does lay out totals those companies paid to move their own lines.

The spreadsheet says it cost $587,000 to relocate Columbia Gas, AT&T, Charter, and a company called Zayo’s fiber lines. All this is accompanied by the legislation asking for $600,000 from the capital improvement fund.

Here’s part of that email from Doug Stephens, the deputy director for the Department of Public Utilities.

He says to city staff: “I am going to have Law/22 {that’s the floor of the Mayor’s Administration at One Government Center} put the bullet points together. Honestly, I don’t think DPU should present this legislation so hopefully they will and we will be support.” Stephens went on to say “as for the spreadsheet that is for our information only. Do not forward it beyond this email.”

The legislation for the $600,000 never made it to the city council. Members never got a chance to consider it.

Zayo reps confirmed to 13abc that they paid for their own utility work. Columbia Gas and Charter wouldn’t comment but sources have told 13abc all those utilities paid their own.

Monday, we asked a city spokesman why that legislation for the $600,000 never made it to the council. We haven’t gotten an answer yet.

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