Keystone XL Pipeline Files for Eminent Domain in Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, LP filed eminent domain papers in nine Nebraska counties Tuesday.

The company is trying to get the remaining 12 percent of easements from landowners required in the state.

This action was required within two years of TransCanada receiving its January 2013 approval in Nebraska. That time period expires on January 22, 2015. An agreement without Eminent Domain can still be reached if TransCanada and land owners can negotiate voluntary easement agreements.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska have filed two new lawsuits over the proposed route, after the state's Supreme Court recently tossed a previous legal challenge.

Landowners in Holt and York counties filed lawsuits Friday against pipeline developer TransCanada to stop the Canadian company from using eminent domain power to gain access to their land.

Their attorney, Dave Domina, says the lawsuits closely resemble the claim the court dismissed. But he says this time all of the landowners have legal standing to bring the case.

That's important, because three judges last time said the landowners lacked standing. Four of the court's seven judges declared the law unconstitutional, but five were required.

The lawsuits seek to overturn a law that allowed former Governor Dave Heineman to approve the route.

The State Department has set a February 2 deadline for federal agencies to provide advice on whether to move forward with the hotly debated Keystone XL pipeline.

A department official said in an emailed statement that other federal agencies dealing with environment, commerce and other matters were notified Friday that they have a little over two weeks left to weigh in.

The department didn't set a timeline for when it would make its long-awaited judgment on whether the pipeline from Canada was in the U.S. national interest.

The official said that review continues. Once all information is received, the department will analyze the matter and make a determination.

The official wasn't authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity.

The following is a statement from TransCanada’s Keystone Projects Land Manager Andrew Craig:

Today, TransCanada has filed the necessary court documents to acquire the remaining 12 percent of Nebraska easements for Keystone XL through eminent domain, a process where compensation for a pipeline easement is determined in local courts, in conjunction with local appraisers.

Despite the filings, TransCanada will continue to work to acquire voluntary easement agreements. If we are unable to come to agreement, a panel of local appraisers appointed by the county court will recommend a value for compensation.

As with voluntary easements, landowners continue to own and farm the land. TransCanada is acquiring the right to construct, operate and maintain a pipeline below ground.

A recent ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court means the new Keystone XL pipeline route approved by the Governor in January 2013 remains valid. Nebraska siting laws require us to commence eminent domain, if needed, within two years of the State’s January 2013 approval of the project. That time period expires Thursday.

Eminent domain is a last resort and our first priority is always to negotiate voluntary agreements with landowners. However, where needed, eminent domain allows necessary commodities like food, oil, natural gas and power to have the safe transportation corridors needed to get to where they are used: in homes, factories and the 250 million vehicles that need to start up each day in America.

We have made numerous offers to negotiate generous agreements with all landowners. These actions today follow our efforts late last year to reach out broadly to remaining landowners and Nebraskans through direct correspondence and through local media to inform them of the timelines we are under as a result of the law. We have waited as long as we could under State law before beginning the process – as we said we would do.

We are pleased that 100 per cent of private landowner easements have been acquired in Montana and South Dakota and that 88 per cent of those in Nebraska have been acquired in less than two years since the state approved the new route.

Statement from Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb:

On the same day a Montana community is trucking in clean drinking water after a pipeline leak spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into their water supply, Canadian oil company TransCanada has served Nebraska families with eminent domain papers to take their land and put Nebraska's water supply at risk of even worse tar sands spills with the construction of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Eminent domain was never intended to be used for private gain, yet that is what Nebraska lawmakers are letting TransCanada do to landowners today. Nebraska's eminent domain law sides with oil companies over the farmers and ranchers who are the backbone of our state's economy.

Landowners will bring a county-level challenge to TransCanada's claim to eminent domain, which will pave the way for another Supreme Court challenge, since the issue of “standing” was not met in the last case, though the majority of judges sided with landowners and agreed that LB 1161 is unconstitutional. The filing of eminent domain on landowners gives them the legal standing and the moral authority to battle TransCanada to our highest court.

It is critical to note that when TransCanada brags about having 100% of the necessary easements in Montana and South Dakota to build its pipeline, what they fail to mention is that many landowners did not sign willingly. They were forced through eminent domain and were bullied very early on in the process and told that they had no other option but to sign. Landowners in all three states oppose this project and know the risks a tar sands pipeline brings to their land and water.

With the backdrop of the Senate debating Keystone XL today, the State of the Union address, and a new NBC poll finding only 41% of Americans approve of the project, we stand with landowners in their call to President Obama to reject the risky pipeline once and for all.

Jim Tarnick, a landowner whose property has sandy soil and water table at surface, commented on TransCanada serving landowners with eminent domain papers: "This is just another bullying move by the foreign corporation that swears they are going to be a good neighbor. From the Kalamazoo to the Yellowstone rivers and all across the United States, tarsands are a horrible danger and threat that the President must reject."

Meghan Hammond, a landowner whose family owns the Build Our Energy Barn, a clean energy project built directly in the path of Keystone XL that would have to be torn down for the risky pipeline: "My family farms and ranches every day in order to put food on Americans’ tables. We can not survive as a family business without clean water. Our government has no solution to clean up tarsands and benzene from our water. Our land is not for sale and we will keep fighting TransCanada until we see their tail lights go back across our border."

Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska Director: "Today, Nebraska families are facing an inconceivable moment when land that has been in their hands for generations is being taken away from them by a foreign oil company. Landowners are prepared to battle TransCanada in court to stop them from using eminent domain for private gain. Farmers and ranchers have the grit and stomach to prevent TransCanada from polluting our water. Landowners will match TransCanada's lawsuits in local courts and continue to take our fight to the one person who can put an end to all of this: President Obama."