Texas Landowners Object to Transcanada-Austin Collusion in Eminent Domain Condemnation

Judge Tom Rugg determined that the Keystone XL Pipeline has a right to the land.

By Bruce Branick l September 29, 2012

PHOTO BY shannonpatrick17 from Swanton, Nebraska, U.S.A.

“Eminent Domain,” the right of government to take private property, has hit Midwest landowners from North Dakota’s Canadian boundary, to Texas’ Gulf Coast, and they are mad as hell. As TransCanada’s subsidiary, Keystone XL Pipeline inexorably rumbles southward, oblivious to landowners outrage, 56 Texas and South Dakota lawsuits are in the litigation grinder.

The question is: Why should U.S. landowners have to sacrifice their property rights for international trade interests? Because, from this seat, it looks very much as though the Alberta tar-sands that Canada does not want at any price will  lood through the Keystone pipeline to be processed in Port Arthur, Texas, and then sold offshore to other countries, including China. Oh, you didn’t know that since our congressional leaders in Washington haven’t been nearly honest with “We the People of the United States.” Besides, things do tend to get a bit blurred when it’s an election year.

When Russ Girling, TransCanada CEO, was asked if he would sign a covenant agreeing the oil processed from the pipeline would stay in America, he declined, saying that au contraire, the oil would be sold all over the world.

Here’s how Keystone Pipe worked it in South Dakota: Cattleman Randy Thompson was told that if he failed to grant 80 of his 400 acres to pipeline easement along the Platte River, the Big Bad Wolf, “Keystone, will use eminent domain,” to open the door (NYT 10/18/11).

Mr. Thompson wrote, in testimony for a House hearing last year, “Perhaps it’s time that our government starts placing the concerns of American citizens over and above those of a foreign corporation.”

In the typical easement pattern, landowners are first treated to Keystone’s velvet glove. Money is calculated and offered, and easement demanded. If the landowner shows a stiff neck, the iron fist of government in the form of eminent domain condemnation is brought to bear. A point little known is that, after easement is contracted for, other entities can also use that easement, and the owner cannot build any permanent structure on the condemned land.

At the Southeast Texas terminus of the 36 inch steel pipeline, in Jefferson County, near Beaumont’s county court house, Monday, September 24th, Judge Tom Rugg announced his decision on Rice Land Partners seeking to keep Keystone XL off their lands. Whether or not the pipeline is a “common carrier” is the crux of the case, Rugg said. A Texas Supreme Court decision maintains a company planning eminent domain land seizure must prove their pipeline is for the “common good.”

But, is the Keystone XL Pipeline being erected for the common good? For months, now, Americans in need of “millions of jobs, more gasoline at cheaper prices, less dependence upon foreign producers,” have been tickled, like squirrels, tempted by nuts glued to wires, telling Texans and whomever else would listen of the economic wonders to be enjoyed once the Keystone pipeline was under construction: jobs, jobs, jobs, by the thousands, jobs one dreams about.

In the meantime, “Tar Sands Action,” a left-leaning environmental action group, nonetheless, raises some disturbing questions. “According to Trans-Canada’s own data just 11% of South Dakota construction jobs on the Keystone I Pipeline were filled by South Dakotans, most of them temporary, low paying manual labor.” Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude will never reach U.S. drivers tanks…U.S. farmers who spent $12.4 billion for fuel in 2009, could see expenses rise to $15 billion in 2012-13…Trans-Canada predicted the Keystone I pipeline would see one spill every seven years. In fact, there have been 12 spills in one year.

Why has no one asked the billions-of-dollars question: “Why aren’t Canadians refining their own dirty-tar-sands in Canada, sending the products overseas, to China and Europe, and keeping those profits for themselves?

Athabascan Chipewyan Indians, known as aboriginals in Canada, were confounded by the story that the Alberta pipeline spews oil into Red Deer River… Canada had already tolerated the Enbridge disaster that “spewed over a million gallons of tar-sand crude oil into the Kalamazoo River (AP).”

All of Canada is up in arms about oil damage to land and water, and they have every right to be concerned, what with the number of spills in Canada, the United States, and BP’s awesome damage to the Gulf of Mexico.

There are 17 refineries in Canada, another in the oven, but Canadians are terrified of tar-sands despoiling the magnificence of Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia waterways, their Pacific seaports, and are resolutely agreed against anything resembling British Petroleum’s Gulf of Mexico debacle that permanently damaged America’s Southern coastline, and sea-floor.

Besides, tar-sands not only wear out steel pipe like sandpaper cuts wood, but are much more expensive, time-consuming and dangerous to transport and process than the usual crude oils. Furthermore, huge quantities of water are required, that may well impair or destroy aquifers providing life to man and animal.

In Texas’ Golden Triangle nestled next to SW Louisiana’s Jambalaya Land, its ancient bayous, alligator bisques and pirogues, is a breed of Texan who arrived here with Noah, and like West Texas cattle barons (including those Mexicans whose acres came from Spanish land grants) were made to come alive in James Michener’s TEXAS, story of the Sabine River, that separates Southeast Texas and Louisiana.

Southeastern Texans were lumber barons, cattle barons, land barons, oil barons, and some new money has also come in with rice barons. All of it is based upon hard work that includes education by people who would argue vehemently, even forcefully, if you claimed “they didn’t do the work themselves.”

The most recent Texas residents to deny Keystone XL Pipeline passage is Rice Land Partners; Judge Tom Rugg’s statement that whether or not Keystone is a “common carrier,” is the crux of the case. Attorneys Terry Wood carrying the ball for Rice Land Partners and LeeAnne Johnson, for two other clients, have so far prevailed, perhaps because Texans are becoming more intolerant of eminent domain condemnation that has spoiled so many acres of productive land, and stolen valuable property for a song.

This multinational corporation,TransCanada, wants to cross defendant David C. Holland’s 4000 acres of Jefferson County land, but Holland (who doesn’t oppose the Keystone pipe) says: the pipe poses an “invisible barrier,” in that it cannot be crossed with heavy machinery. Moreover, he feels there’s a lack of environmental consideration, a “lowball” monetary offer, which would cost him thousands of dollars. In addition, Holland says the company is “bullying him” into “inadequate
compensation, and danger from groundwater contamination, besides making a hayfield useless for at least four years.”

Judge Tom Rugg spoke Monday, September 24 th, determining that the pipeline has a right to the land, but that the Keystone surety bond “remains questionable,” and that Keystone’s position as a “common carrier,” is yet to be decided in a court case, separate from that of September 24, 2012.

Consequently, pipeline construction will continue between Nederland, Texas’ terminus to “a crude oil hub located at Cushing, Oklahoma,” while the decisions made will release the fury of eminent domain condemnation, because Texas state government in Austin has been historically in favor of oil. Well, oil is just fine, but not when private oil rights are exercised to the detriment of individual property rights, at the public expense, and to the benefit of a private foreign company – oh, yes, Canada is still a foreign country – we must think twice. To take land from A and give it to B, another private party, at below market value, just isn’t right – in fact, it’s downright unconstitutional.

Moreover, companies with so much money involved will continue to appeal to higher courts, and in Texas, the court at Austin, in spite of a nervous temporary glitch questioning Keystone’s status as a “common carrier,” and control by Governor Rick Perry, can be expected to continue ruling in favor of eminent domain takings over private property rights.

Bruce Branick served his nation for over 5 decades at sea. After three years of North Atlantic convoy duty as a Radioman in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol and a fourth year attached to the Richmond Naval Air Station, a Florida Blimp Base concerned with Anti-submarine Warfare, he spent 50 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine as a Radio Officer, voyaging the world over from the Arctic to Antarctica, from Galveston to Istanbul, from Suez to Hong Kong. Mr. Branick, a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis

, is author of

Memoirs of a Loose Cannon

Two If By Sea