Keystone XL pipeline fight's latest battlefield? County boards -
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:15 am
Keystone XL pipeline fight's latest battlefield? County boards

YORK — Katie Quiring walked to the microphone Tuesday with a baby, a bottle and a request regarding the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“What we're asking is that you protect our water, protect our rights as landowners and residents,” said Quiring as she fed formula to her 7-week-old son, Wyatt.

She asked the York County Board to hear her concerns about an underground pipeline that would daily carry some 830,000 barrels of tar-sands oil a quarter mile from her rural home. She urged board members to pass a resolution that would declare the county's opposition to such pipelines.

The board voted 3-1 to ask pipeline opponents to change the wording of the resolution and bring it back for their consideration on July 23. The delay should also allow a fifth member, who was absent Tuesday, to attend in case a tie-breaking vote is needed.

The hearing represents the latest installment of a strategy by pipeline opponents to persuade local elected officials in the 12 counties along the pipeline's route to pass resolutions or zoning policies.

Pipeline supporters, meanwhile, are working to convince the same officials that such resolutions and zoning regulations are unnecessary.

The Holt County Board adopted the first such resolution in April, and Antelope County officials will hold a public hearing on pipeline zoning next week. A resolution in Boyd County failed, although pipeline opponents there are working to have it reconsidered.

The resolutions are considered symbolic, even by their supporters. For example, the York County resolution stated that it is not meant to pre-empt federal or state laws, which govern the routing and approval of pipeline projects.

The 1,700-mile pipeline would carry diluted bitumen crude from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. It requires the approval of the U.S. State Department because it crosses an international border. A decision by the department is expected later this year.

Though it may be symbolic, TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the Keystone XL project, said county officials should not approve the resolutions. The company sent a representative to Tuesday's meeting to testify in opposition.

Jeff Rauh urged commissioners to look past the strong emotions and opinions surrounding the proposal and instead rely on state and federal environmental reviews. Both determined that a spill from the Keystone XL would most likely be contained to a small area rather than cause widespread contamination.

“These studies demonstrate that allegations about risks to Nebraska's outstanding water resources and the aquifer in particular have been overstated,” he said.

Pipeline opponents consider the state and federal reviews flawed and inadequate because they did not conduct a risk analysis for surface water. So the strategy of proposing resolutions stems, in part, from a desire to have such concerns recognized by local elected officials.

“They don't have the legal authority to ban a pipeline, but they certainly do not have to turn over their county on a silver platter to TransCanada,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, a group that has rallied pipeline opposition in the state.

She said the group also is working to persuade counties to pass zoning ordinances. She suggested that they require the company to maintain a minimum distance between the pipeline and a home, to carry multimillion dollar bonds to ensure the repair of roads damaged during installation, and to pay to train and equip local firefighters who would have to respond to spills or other emergencies.

TransCanada officials have met with all county boards along the pipeline's proposed route. Spokesman Shawn Howard said the company has promised to build the $7 billion pipeline to rigorous safety standards and carry $200 million in insurance to cover any cleanup costs.

Larry Dix, director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, said his organization urges county boards to be careful about the wording of resolutions. Zoning issues are even more complicated.

If they are considering such proposals, they need to be vetted by county attorneys, Dix said.

“I tell the counties it's one of those things that's very emotional and you have the potential to be sued,” he said.

York County Attorney Candace Dick told the board the wording of the resolution being considered Tuesday could open the county to possible lawsuits if the board members later decide to adopt zoning regulations on pipelines.

Nonetheless, two of the four board members indicated support for the resolution Tuesday and a third voiced conditional support. Commissioner Bill Bamesberger, however, said he couldn't support the resolution as written.

So the resolution's supporters offered to make amendments and bring it back for consideration.
They will return, hoping the elected officials they live and work alongside will hand them a victory in the battle against the pipeline.

“We're just looking for some common sense,” said Kevin Graves of rural Bradshaw. “We can't find it in Washington. We can't find it in Lincoln. We want some from you.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

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