In a victory for citizens, landowners and property rights advocates, TransCanada today released a press statement that said it “has begun the process of de-registering certain easements that it has acquired for its original Keystone XL Pipeline route in Nebraska.”
The holding of these easements has been a controversial topic among pipeline landowners ever since President Obama denied the permit for the pipeline and the route was abandoned. Many farmers and ranchers felt that they had been coerced into signing the easements under duress, faced with TransCanada’s arbitrary deadlines and threats of eminent domain. Others worried that the permanent, perpetual easements on their property for an abandoned pipeline route would be re-sold to other (possibly foreign) corporations for other purposes.
NEAT, Bold Nebraska and landowners have been a huge part in shaping the dialogue around this issue. We have consistently told the media and discussed in community meetings our review of Rescission Lawsuits (challenging the old easements and forcing TransCanada to release and void the easements) and all of these combined efforts have led to TransCanada’s recent announcement.
According to TransCanada’s release, “TransCanada representatives will de-register easement agreements on properties in the following counties: Boone, Garfield, Greeley, Hamilton, Holt, Jefferson, Keya Paha, Merrick, Nance, Rock, Saline, York and Wheeler. In total, the easements that will be de-registered involve 288 landowners who controlled 367 properties and 58 temporary work space agreements.” The release also states that landowners will be able to keep the payments made to them on the now-unnecessary easements.
Now for a warning. We are pretty sure TransCanada made this announcement hoping folks would think – ‘Well, if they are letting them keep the easement payment maybe I should sign up and hope the route is moved or not approved and I can keep the money.’ This is exactly what TransCanada wants us to think so they can tell the State Dept., President and the press that all the landowners are on board, its just a vocal minority that is against the project. TransCanada has recently hired a bunch of new lobby and PR firms and each and every move is calculated. The only reason we see victories like today is because of the hard work of citizens and landowners standing in solidarity and holding out. You are forcing them to be more reasonable. Each of this victories is no mystery and no coincidence.
TransCanada’s announcement on easements comes on the heels of the news that the landowner lawsuit against the state of Nebraska will go to trial. The State of Nebraska and Attorney General Bruning have twice attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, and three times the judge has ruled in favor of citizens to uphold the process. The new route, approved by Gov. Heineman as a result of LB 1161, could be nullified if citizens win that lawsuit and Heineman’s route approval is deemed unconstitutional.
We heard this week, because of the Pipeline Fighters checking county records on a regular basis, that some of the new easement offers have included language designed to limit a landowners liability to $1,000,000 in the case of allegations of landowner negligence causing damage or a spill. All of you who have heard us talking about this for the past 3 years know this is one of the main issues NEAT is fighting for. Each of your efforts have allowed us to keep this issue alive in the media and at each opportunity we discuss the demands of NEAT such as limiting landowner liability. Congratulations for this huge step but we need to keep forcing more favorable terms. Limiting liability to $1mm is a big step but there are about $1mm more to go!
If history tells you anything NEAT and your efforts in sticking together has already guaranteed if the project goes that you will have a better contract and get paid more than all of those who have signed before you. Keep up the good work, spread the word and stay united!
Landowners still affected by the new proposed route are still having to deal with TransCanada’s attempts to get them to sign easements for a pipeline project that has no permit and has not been approved by the State Department and President Obama. We urge landowners with questions and concerns about their property rights to visit the Nebraska Easement Action Team website (www.nebraskaeasement.org) and contact NEAT for more information about how to protect their interests when it comes do dealing with TransCanada and their land agents.
It is critical to reiterate, that while this is great news, we have a pretty good idea why TransCanada is releasing the easements. For one, TransCanada hit some bad press days with high-profile spills and bad pipe down in Texas so this move certainly helps shine a nice light on TransCanada giving the impression they are being a “good neighbor” as their ads say to folks. The other piece of this move is TransCanada can now go to landowners on the fence saying to them “what is the harm in signing, if Obama denies the pipeline you get to keep the money.” The problem with this is there is no guarantee TransCanada would release the easements like they are doing now, so they could very easily go and sell to China or another interested buyer. There is also the fundamental issue at heart–landowners can not be bought. The opposition to TransCanada and tarsands is real. The risks to land and water is real. The strong culture of family farming and ranching is real and any “good will” gesture by TransCanada does not erase the years of bad will we have witnessed up close and personal.