Awaiting approval for pipeline, TransCanada sweetens the pot for Nebraska landowners - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 2:15 am / Updated at 8:54 am
Awaiting approval for pipeline, TransCanada sweetens the pot for Nebraska landowners

YORK, Neb. — Sam Fischer didn't care about the money. He wanted the oil pipeline routed to the other side of his well.

So he used the only leverage he had and refused to sign an agreement with the Canadian company building the pipeline. In response, the company invoked the power of eminent domain, and a judge condemned Fischer's land.

In the end, the 56-year-old farmer near Leigh, Neb., got $3,325 for an easement. The company got to bury its pipeline in his cornfield without moving the route.

The year was 2009, the company was TransCanada and the pipeline was the first Keystone project through Nebraska.

Now the same company is trying to reach agreements with hundreds of Nebraska landowners as it seeks federal approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline. But as controversy over the second project has grown, so have the monetary incentives for landowners.

Recently, TransCanada offered bonuses of $45,000 per mile of right of way for landowners who signed agreements within 30 days. Combine the bonuses with payments for right of way, temporary construction space and crop losses, and some landowners are seeing offer sheets well in excess of $100,000.

“We'd rather pay extra money than drag the process out because honestly, the only ones who win in that case are lawyers,” said Shawn Howard, the company's spokesman.

Opponents of the pipeline, however, say the “sign now” incentives are a sign the company is struggling to secure landowner cooperation since the pipeline was officially rerouted in January.

Brian Jorde with the Domina Law Group in Omaha is representing landowners who have sued the state over the pipeline route.

“They're trying to put pressure on people by waving more money,” Jorde said. “People are holding out, so they're going to keep upping the prices.”

The 36-inch pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen oil daily from the tar sands of western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The underground pipeline, which would run about 275 miles through Nebraska, requires a permit from the U.S. State Department because it crosses an international border.

The State Department is considering the pipeline's second proposed route. The first route was altered in Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills.

On the initial route, the company said it had secured voluntary agreements with 90 percent of landowners. When the route was changed, it crossed the properties of more landowners, Howard said.

The company started contacting those property holders about easement agreements in late January and early February, shortly after Gov. Dave Heineman approved the second route.

Howard declined to say how many landowners on the second route have signed agreements. Nor would he reveal the total number of properties crossed by the route, other than to say there are hundreds.

“We are pleased where we are at in terms of discussions with landowners,” Howard said. “We are going to continue to take our time.”

The Domina law firm also represents an organization called Nebraska Easement Action Team, whose members include about 200 landowners on the pipeline route. The membership's goal is to negotiate a master agreement with the company only if and when the project receives federal approval.

Jorde, along with other opponents of the pipeline, estimated that as many as 60 percent of landowners have not signed agreements with TransCanada. In other states along the pipeline route, the company has reportedly secured agreements with up to 90 percent of landowners.

The company has the ability to use eminent domain to obtain easements when negotiations with landowners fail. In such cases, certified appraisals of the property are conducted, and county judges decide the easement payment. Landowners can then appeal the determinations to district court.

Howard said TransCanada typically reaches voluntary agreements with about 98 percent of landowners. Of the roughly 573 landowners on the first Keystone project, the company went through the full condemnation process with nine, according to the company's records. That translates to about 1.6 percent.

Those who go through eminent domain usually receive less money than the company offered for a voluntary agreement, Howard said.

Fisher, the farmer from Leigh, said the $3,200 he received after his court hearing was roughly the same amount the company had offered him.

While his cornfield has been restored to its former condition, he said the experience taught him a landowner's rights to his own land have limits.

“This got shoved through this area so fast people didn't have time to organize,” he said.

As for the current pipeline proposal, TransCanada has not wasted a postage stamp on Susan Dunavan in more than two years.

Between 2008 and 2011, however, TransCanada mailed her four easement agreements and two letters warning of eminent domain. The proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline runs through Dunavan's 80-acre prairie south of York.

In response, Dunavan joined a landowners lawsuit challenging the state law that enabled the pipeline route. The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in late September in Lincoln.

On Friday, Dunavan stood on a piece of pasture where she believes the pipeline would go it if ultimately wins federal approval. She and her husband, Bill, raised five children on the property. Now it's a wonderland for their six grandchildren.

“TransCanada can offer whatever they want,” she said. “I will not take it.”

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

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

Video: Stothert says Crossroads project is 'full speed ahead,' but she won't support bond issue
'Fairly old' human skull found in Mills County
World champion Crawford's promoter working to have title defense at CenturyLink Center
Police i.d. body found near 36th, Seward Streets
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Omaha crash victim, 19, had touched many lives
Firefighters take on 'fully engulfed barn fire'
Council Bluffs school board approves new district headquarters
Officials announce effort to lure more veterans to Nebraska
SB 132nd Street lane closed
Shane Osborn grabs several endorsements
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Omaha area may get 1 inch of rain tonight
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Owners of exotic dance bar deny prostitution allegations
More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
A day after Ricketts endorsement, Ted Cruz backs Sasse for Senate
Some city streets remain closed
Nebraska's U.S. Senate candidates stick to familiar topics at Omaha forum
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Breaking Brad: Inside the mind of a 99-year-old real estate agent
I saw an article about a 99-year-old real estate agent who's still working. “This house is extra special. It has indoor toilets!”
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »