LINCOLN — A leading opponent of a nuclear waste dump proposed two decades ago in Boyd County has joined the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.
Lowell Fisher, who conducted a high-profile hunger strike against the nuclear dump, wrote a nonbinding resolution, passed Monday by the Boyd County Planning Commission, stating that the county doesn't want the crude-oil pipeline.
Fisher, a 72-year-old rancher who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994, said he had a guilty conscience after initially deciding to stay out of the pipeline controversy. Upon further consideration, he said, the pipeline holds more negatives than positives for his rural north-central Nebraska county.
The resolution states that the pipeline “shall not cross” the county, citing Boyd County's “proven history of resisting corporate exploitation and pollution.”
Fisher, of Spencer, Neb., was one of five members of the appointed planning commission to approve the anti-pipeline resolution. Three commissioners voted no and one abstained. One yes vote came from Loren Sieh of Naper, Neb., who was also an opponent of the waste dump.
Fisher said a big concern is that the proposed route of the 36-inch, high-pressure crude-oil pipeline crosses three steep river valleys in his area, including the Niobrara River valley, that are prone to landslides.
“Our hills move. That's what's unique here,” Fisher said. “If a hill moves, the pipeline breaks in half and you get millions of gallons of oil pouring into these streams in a minute.”
The resolution comes as a leading pipeline opposition group, Bold Nebraska, has been urging the 12 counties crossed by the Keystone XL route to pass symbolic resolutions against it and zoning restrictions on pipelines.
But the York County Board voted down an anti-pipeline resolution Tuesday, and the Boyd County Board rejected a similar measure earlier this year. Holt County, though, adopted an anti-pipeline statement as well as new zoning rules for pipelines.
TransCanada officials have urged counties to reject such anti-pipeline statements, emphasizing the additional safeguards they are taking to detect and prevent oil leaks. Company officials also say they are willing to address concerns raised by counties.
“We look forward to working with the people of this county to develop the trust we need to move forward with this project,'' Jeff Rauh, a spokesman for TransCanada, said Thursday.
In Boyd County, Dolly Kienke, the county's zoning administrator, said she warned zoning board members against passing the resolution.
Kienke said they might risk legal problems when they are called on to consider the conditional-use permit that TransCanada must file for the pipeline.
“This is getting four carts before the one poor horse,” she said. “We have no application, no map line, we have nothing that says this pipeline is ever going to come.”
“It's nuclear waste dump again. People are involved in the same emotions,” Kienke added.
Fisher said his resolution was not inspired by Bold Nebraska but by concerns for his own county. He said that while it's a symbolic message, it's a powerful one.
He said concerns in Boyd County were every bit as legitimate as concerns about a pipeline crossing the sandy, porous soils of the Nebraska Sand Hills, which TransCanada avoided by rerouting the pipeline.
Federal officials are still reviewing whether to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline, which links tar-sand oil mines in western Canada with oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.