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Pipeline fighters stand their ground

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013 8:57 am

NELIGH — Continue to fight the good fight.

That’s the message landowners affected by the proposed Keystone XL project heard Wednesday evening from members of Bold Nebraska, NEAT (Nebraska Easement Action Team) and the Nebraska Farmers Union.

Updates were presented to about 50 area residents at a “pipeline fighter” meeting here as opponents worked to capitalize on a resolution passed by the Holt County Board of Supervisors in April that bars tar sands and crude oil pipelines in the county.

It remains unclear, however, if such a resolution actually can prevent a federal project — like the pipeline if it is approved — from moving forward.

At Wednesday’s meeting, pipeline foes suggested landowners along the proposed route meet with local planning and zoning commissions and county supervisors, urging passage of a similar resolution.

Holt County passed zoning regulations in 2011 regarding pipeline placement. The April resolution echoed concerns voiced by Holt County residents, said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska.

“It was a citizen-led effort,” Kleeb said.

Jeanne Crumly of Page said educating Holt County residents was instrumental to the resolution being brought to the table.

“It took about two months to raise awareness among citizens,” Crumly said. “Then, over 170 people showed up for the zoning meeting.“

Residents in other counties took notice.

Kleeb said York County landowners have asked their elected officials to review zoning laws.

“Now, York County is rewriting a comprehensive zoning plan and a series of public hearings are taking place,” Kleeb said.

She said the legal precedent for zoning regulations was established in a 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. The CRS reported that state governments, not the federal government, are responsible for laws regarding pipeline siting, and county governments may add additional regulations.

“The findings are clear,” Kleeb said. “Counties can add regulations or TransCanada (the company seeking to build and operate the pipeline) wouldn’t be as upset as they are.”

It is unclear when the U.S. State Department — which has authority to determine whether TransCanada’s application for a construction permit will be approved — will release the final Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

Kleeb said that, originally, a final study was to be issued in late June or early July, but several factors have slowed the process.

In May, the EPA criticized the State Department study, urging a closer look at the effects of potential spills, in addition to greenhouse gas emissions rates.

The State Department also is conducting an internal investigation about a contractor hired to conduct the EIS due to a possible conflict of interest with TransCanada.

If the final EIS is released in the fall, a national interest determination study will follow, including another comment period.

Kleeb said she believes three concerns still need to be addressed before a final decision is reached: the proposed route crosses the Sandhills, no risk analysis to the aquifer or rivers along the route was conducted, and an economic risk analysis was not included.

Neligh resident Don Meadows expressed disappointment with the drawn-out process.

“We give public information and input, but we never receive information back,” Meadows said.

From a citizen’s perspective, it’s frustrating, Kleeb agreed.

“We ask and get nothing,” she said. “It’s like radio silence.”

Until a potential final study is released this fall, Kleeb said Nebraskans will have the opportunity to build a clean energy future.

This summer, Bold Nebraska, the Sierra Club, 350.org, and Nebraska Farmers Union will kick off a “Build Our Energy” project implementing wind and solar energy.

Kleeb said two barn structures will be built along the route — one in the Sandhills; one near York and Polk Counties — utilizing solar panels and a wind turbine and intended as community gathering spots.

“We need our own power and it needs to be a diversified energy portfolio,” Kleeb said.

In the last three months, Kleeb said, she has seen a shift in perspective about approving the project. She said the amount of underground oil in Montana and North Dakota is a factor. The recent spill in Mayflower, Ark., also has drawn attention.

 And, landowner resistance is making an impact with lawmakers.

“We would not be in this fight with TransCanada on the national level without landowner support,” Kleeb said.

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