In the fall of 2007 I had my first contact with TransCanada.
One day the phone rang, on the other end was a young land agent that I had never heard of before. For some reason he seemed to think that it was urgent for him to meet with myself and my two siblings to discuss a pipeline project that might affect our family farm.
Little did I know at the time that this phone call would set off a series of events that would turn my life upside down, leading me into a multi-year battle to protect our land and property rights from not only a foreign corporation but also from our own elected officials.
When this all began back in 2007 I was running my cattle buying business as well as managing my ninety-one year old mother’s 400 acre farm. I had done this for her since my dad passed away in 2004. My folks purchased the farm in 1975 after being tenant farmers for many years. It was a great achievement considering that they started out with nothing back in 1933 during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years.
Believe me when I say it took a lot of grit, hard work, and determination along with a whole lot of self sacrifice for them to make farm ownership a reality. The farm was their 401K. Upon retirement the rent from the farmland and pasture was their main source of income.
A barrage of unsolicited phone calls from Trans Canada’s land agent followed our initial meeting. The hard pursuit for a pipeline easement across my mom’s land was on, with no regard for our concerns or respect for our personal time. We knew immediately from our initial meeting with the land agent that we wanted nothing to do with this pipeline project even though he had only provided us with a few sketchy details.
Our family’s land is located on a rather large island in the Platte River that flows through Nebraska. The soil there is very sandy and the water table is extremely close to the surface, so close in fact that in the spring we often hit water while digging postholes just three feet deep. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that burying a massive high pressure pipeline full of tar sands oil and toxic chemicals four foot deep into this land would be a bad idea.
When the KXL was first proposed to us we actually had few concerns about it because we knew the proposal was coming from a foreign owned corporation. We had no doubt that our rights as American citizens would trump anything that they had. We thought for sure that our Nebraska Governor and legislature would have our backs on this. I realize now that my lack of interest or participation in the political process had left me with a blind faith in our elected officials, but I can assure you that is no longer the case.
As the months went by my confidence started to erode as I learned and heard more about the KXL. For the first time I started to have some real concerns about this project that could potentially jeopardize the land that my mom’s livelihood depended upon. My main concern was that if the pipeline were to leak it would go directly into the farm’s water supply. There was no way in hell that I was going to just sit back and let that happen.
I decided I was going to do everything within my power to try and stop this pipeline and the unjustified land grab that came along with it.. For me the fight was on.
As I expected, TransCanada has been a relentless foe. I couldn’t count all the times they called with what they apparently thought were offers that would entice some country hicks to sign over their property to them. Apparently in 2010 TransCanada became fed up with the folks that were by their definition “uncooperative”, so they sent us a letter with an easement agreement.
They offered us a onetime payment of $17,900 for a perpetual (yes, forever) fifty-foot-wide easement that would dissect eighty acres of our land.
We were given two options: (1) sign it, take it to the courthouse, get it recorded and then return it to them within thirty days. Or (2) get our asses drug into eminent domain court and have our land condemned.
In a polite way I basically told them to go to hell.
They took no action against us, so clearly this was their way of trying to bully and intimidate us into signing what they call a “voluntary agreement”. To make a long story short, we went through this whole letter and easement thing again the following year with the same results.
While I fully expected TransCanada to be what they are, I never imagined that our own Nebraska elected officials would react in the manner they have.
At one time, I fully expected them to do whatever they could to protect our rights and our natural resources. Instead, they have chosen to do everything except hold a Valentines dance for TransCanada. Personally, I think they should have the dance; that way, they could really hold each other tight.
The final straw for me was when our governor and legislature passed LB1161, giving TransCanada a shortcut in the regulatory process in Nebraska, and handing them the power of eminent domain — even though TransCanada is still in the permitting process.
When Governor Heineman signed this bill into law, he placed the noose tightly around the necks of Nebraska landowners. Thankfully, those ropes were loosened when our landowner’s lawsuit prevailed in district court and LB1161 was ruled as being unconstitutional.
Through all of this, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps even old dogs can learn new tricks. This has been an eye opening experience for me, and it has broadened my thinking about a whole lot of things. I have gained a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for people that I previously had nothing in common with. For me, this has been the positive in an otherwise negative situation. I thank you all.
(Please also be sure to read this DailyKos blog by Jane Kleeb from Bold Nebraska: http://www.dailykos.com/...