By Mark Anderson
TransCanada has relentlessly sought to extend the southern tier of its 1,700-mile hot oil-sludge pipeline from Canada to Houston area refineries. Now, AMERICAN FREE PRESS has learned that a growing number of Texans are fighting the Alberta-based company and its project to send “tar sands crude” across North America. Most reports say the product will be exported. Thus there will be no domestic economic boon as proponents claim.
Pipeline sections are already stacked within a locked fence near Beaumont and will be used for part of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. These could be routed underground months, or maybe even years, before court cases involving landowners in the pipeline’s path are fully settled.
Things are getting confrontational. In Winnsboro, protesters, including some from the group Tar Sands Blockade, have been staying in makeshift tree-houses in the pipeline’s path, in what some corporate media have labeled a “last-ditch effort” to block the pipeline’s southern tier. Construction on this leg started in August, from Cushing, Okla. to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
On October 4, actress Daryl Hannah helped local landowner Eleanor Fairchild, 78, and was arrested after she stood in the way of heavy equipment clearing a path through Fairchild’s property. TransCanada’s bulldozers and diggers are carving out a path as much as 50 feet wide.
AFP contacted east Texas rice farmers in the Beaumont area, who are learning firsthand that corporations have privileges that make a mockery out of individual property rights.
The farmers, in the TransCanada v. Texas Rice Land Partners case, appeared before Jefferson County Judge Tom Rugg, Sr., September 12 in Beaumont, near Houston, hoping to delay or stop the issuance of a writ of possession to TransCanada that would give the company fast-track access to these properties.
But according to a copy of the September 28 ruling, Rugg jumped ahead and approved a writ of possession, allowing TransCanada to start digging even before the three affected landowners in this case—David Holland, Harold Dishman and Mickey Phelan—have finalized a suitable price and conditions for access.
Holland already has some 50 utility pipes running under his land. “We do one a year,” he told AFP. Holland typically receives fair payment for granting land access in past projects not involving TransCanada. But with TransCanada, an original offer to Holland of $447K was dropped to $20,880 by court-appointed commissioners, he told AFP. He feels the property is worth $550K.
This latest Beaumont case is only part of a complex trilogy of live cases involving Holland. The other two involve the projects of the Plano-based Denbury Green Pipeline Company.
Debra Medina, representing the property rights group We Texans, noted that these are the same rice farmers who secured a widely cited Texas Supreme Court decision against Denbury.
The justices unanimously ruled that Denbury had to prove it meets Texas statutory requirements as a “common carrier,” meaning its pipeline had to be generally accessible to other users and thus serve a legitimate “public use” and not a strictly private use for exclusive gain—before property access could be granted via eminent domain.
Depending on what happens at the state level, Holland plans to take his case to the federal level.
“I may go for a ‘42 U.S.C. section 1983’ case in federal court, against violating my civil rights under color of law,” he told AFP, hoping that Fifth Amendment limits against land takings without just compensation still mean something in the U.S.
In a related case, property owner Julia Trigg-Crawford, who lost her case against TransCanada over the summer, has filed a motion for a new trial in the same Lamar County Court where Judge Bill Harris granted TransCanada subcontractors a writ of possession to enter her property.
When the subcontractors showed up to begin trenching through part of Ms. Crawford’s ranch in northeast Texas, she kicked them off her land. But as it stands, TransCanada is working 24/7 to dig trenches, weld together pieces of pipeline and push ahead, as if legal issues have been settled.
“They’ve got everything ready to go on both sides of my property . . . they’ve got to be awfully certain they are going to win,” Ms. Crawford told AFP, expressing disbelief. “My understanding is that in east Texas [by Winnsboro] they [TransCanada] are starting work at four in the morning. Here by my place, there were truckloads of welders. . . . It’s unbelievable, the activity out here. The trench is ready, and the pipe is welded. So, what if they lose the appeal? You mean they’d have to come take it all out?”
Mark Anderson is AFP’s roving editor. Listen to Mark’s weekly radio show and email him at [email protected]