Landowners meet to address questions on proposed pipeline

By Kay Braddock         

        Area landowners met last week to discuss their questions and concerns regarding TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. About 40 people from Dawson, McCone and Prairie counties attended the informal meeting held at the Lindsay Community Center, according to Dawson County Commissioner Jim Skillestad, who also attended the two-hour long meeting.

Describing the gathering as very productive and non-disruptive, Skillestad said the perception by some people that landowners are trying to “stir up a lot problems” for the proposed project, “is the furthest thing from the truth.”  
“They’re the ones giving the land for this,” Skillestad said of landowners, noting the group has legitimate concerns that have yet to be answered.
The 1,980-mile project of 36-inch pipeline, which would run through portions of six Montana counties, is expected to carry 800,000 barrels daily of the thick oil substance from the tar sands near Alberta, Canada to the existing Keystone Pipeline near the Nebraska-Kansas border.  
TransCanada will begin easement negotiations with eastern Montana landowners next month, according to TransCanada’s Stakeholder’s Relations Representative Bud Anderson. 
With construction scheduled to begin in 2011, the proposed project could potentially mean a tremendous boost to taxable revenue income for affected counties, which also includes Phillips, Valley and Fallon counties. 
But McCone County landowner Lyle Quick said county commissioners need to also consider the concerns of area ranchers and farmers and how the project will affect their livelihood, especially during the construction phase. Quick, who also attended the Lindsay meeting, noted that although the pipeline doesn’t cross through his land, he sees the potential problems the project could mean for ranchers in particular.
“I’m not opposed to the pipeline,” Quick said, adding, “as long as they take care of the people properly.”
Quick described several scenarios that TransCanada will need to consider during the construction phase including ditches separating cattle from their water source as well as the disruption the project could cause during breeding season. 
“Someone has to be responsible during the construction …  that these concerns are going to be taken care of,” Quick said.
He also questioned the company’s request to use thinner pipes in rural areas.
“If it’s not good enough for the populated areas, why is it good enough for the rural areas?” Quick asked. 
Proper compensation to landowners was also addressed at the Lindsay meeting. 
Landowners will be compensated based on the property values in eastern Montana for the current 50-feet easements requested, according to Anderson. TransCanada will also compensate landowners for the 60-feet of temporary use of land needed during the construction phase. 
TransCanada will provide damage-of-land payments to landowners for crop and grazing loss caused due to the construction, until full yield of the land is obtained. Normally full yield of land can be expected within the first three years for grazing land and one to two years for corn and wheat crops, Anderson said. 
TransCanada will negotiate with landowners on an individual basis concerning specific issues like cattle being separated from their water source, Anderson said.
Northern Plains Resource Council board member Irene Moffett cautioned landowners to look over any easement contract before signing.
“You grant, you convey, you warrant,” Moffett said. “You do not sell.”  
McCone County landowner Rick Kniepkamp, who owns land in which the proposed pipeline would run through, said TransCanada representatives have been on his property five to six times in the past six months.
“They were very congenial,” Kniepkamp said, but noted he and other affected landowners have been “kept in the dark” regarding many of the questions they have about the project.
“All of us farmers and ranchers are pretty green on this thing,” Kniepkamp said. “It seemed, at one point, like they’re (TransCanada) pushing real hard, real fast.” 
Kniepkamp, who also attended the Lindsay meeting, noted that it is only reasonable that landowners benefit from the project as the counties will likely benefit.
“Landowners should be compensated fairly too,” Kniepkamp said.
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