Johanns, who noted that the project has not yet won approval, called on the company to drop its threats and its deadlines in an Aug. 11 letter.
Representatives of the Sierra Club, Bold Nebraska and National Wildlife Federation, in statements issued last week, were even harsher, asking Nebraska's congressional representatives to block the project and the State Legislature to enact tougher laws on foreign companies that seek to use eminent domain powers.
Ken Winston, a lobbyist for the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club, said TransCanada's prior assurances that it would respect landowners in obtaining rights of way seem to ring hollow.
"TransCanada's actions before the project has been approved speak louder than their words and are likely to bode poorly for landowners when problems arise later," Winston said. "Once the land is acquired, they will have no motivation to respond to the needs and concerns of Nebraskans." A TransCanada spokesman said that while the company has yet to reply to Johanns' requests in his letter, it has withdrawn its negotiating deadlines and has no intention of seeking eminent domain actions at this time.
"Certainly our intent was not to threaten," said Jeff Rauh, a spokesman for the company. "Any time the issue of eminent domain is mentioned, it can become emotional. Our intent was simply to be clear and straightforward with what we're doing."
The letters went out to about 50 landowners in late July. Rauh said they were sent to landowners, among the 470 in Nebraska affected by the pipeline route, whose negotiations with Trans-Canada were not "progressing."
The letters stated that Trans-Canada will be building and operating the pipeline, and while the company's "strong preference" was a voluntary easement agreement, the landowner had 30 days to respond to the company's "final offer" or the company would commence condemnation proceedings.
Winston said there's some question as to whether Trans-Canada, a private company, has the authority to use eminent domain. The company's letter, however, cites a state statute that allows such condemnation of land for "any company, corporation, or association" that is transporting crude oil, petroleum, gases, or other products across the state.
Concerns have arisen in recent weeks about TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would be 1,800 miles long, crossing Nebraska from Keya Paha County in the north to near Steele City on the Kansas border.
Recently, TransCanada backed off on plans to pump the oil at higher-than-normal pressures through thinner pipe. That came after concerns were raised by U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Johanns about safeguarding against a leak, particularly where the pipeline crosses the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer. The groundwater-rich aquifer provides drinking water for 80 percent of the state.
The project is under review by the U.S. State Department, which is taking the lead role because the pipeline crosses an international border.
Supporters say the pipeline would ensure a safe, reliable supply of crude oil into the future. Opponents say the project is unnecessary and unsafe and would expand an environmentally harmful way of extracting oil.
Source: Southwest Iowa News