A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Old Texas Tale Retold – Farmer vs. TransCanada – NYTimes.com

In News, Really?!? on May 8, 2012 at 17:51

Her grandfather bought the land, in northeast Texas, about a two-hour drive from Dallas and a quarter mile from the Oklahoma border, in 1948 and started growing wheat, corn and soy. 

Old Texas Tale Retold – Farmer vs. TransCanada

This is insane… they’re being bullied off their land.

Texas law allows certain private pipeline companies to use the right of eminent domain to force landowners to let pipelines through. This was true even for TransCanada, which has yet to get State Department permission to bring the Keystone XL across the Alberta border.

The Crawfords’ condemnation hearing happened in front of a district judge. They were not invited to that hearing — landowners in Texas do not get to go to the actual condemnation hearing. They are invited only to the next step, after the condemnation, when a three-person panel of county landowners decides on a value for the property being condemned.

John Pieratt, Ms. Crawford’s lawyer, told her not to go to that appraisal hearing.

“These landowners only look at value,” Mr. Pieratt said. “By the time you get there, a judge has already decided to condemn. There’s an argument that just by showing up you agree to their right to take the land.

“The only way Texas law allows you access to a judge is if you appeal the condemnation.”

So the Crawfords are appealing. Their hearing is scheduled for July 9.

A TransCanada spokesman, Terry Cunha, said by e-mail: “We work very hard to reach voluntary compensation agreements with landowners when our pipelines cross their land. The Crawford matter is no exception. We have been working with this landowner for several years, and we will continue to do so until the hearing, which is being used to question our right to take the easement we require for this important infrastructure project.”

Out in her pasture, Ms. Crawford pointed to the Bois D’Arc Creek, a quarter-mile away. The Crawfords owns water rights to the creek, which is the farm’s main irrigation source. Keystone claims a right of way a quarter-mile long by 50 feet wide. If the condemnation is upheld, the pipe will cross under the creek, 36 inches in diameter and carrying, every day, 590,000 barrels of diluted bitumen — very dense crude oil mixed with sand and water.

Ms. Crawford is worried about the possible contamination of her creek. She pointed out that the Keystone 1, TransCanada’s first pipeline, had a dozen spills in its first year of operation.

“I called my farm insurance agent and asked what happens if there’s a spill, I can’t water my crops, and my corn dies,” she said. “He said my insurance won’t cover that. I’d have to sue TransCanada for damages.”

The Crawfords are the last holdouts in Lamar County. (It is unclear how many are left in Texas; the company says it has 99 percent of the rights of way secured.) TransCanada asserts that it has used eminent domain only as “an absolute last resort” in an estimated 19 out of 1,452 land tracts in Texas. Critics dispute this number. The watchdog group We Texans, led by a Republican former candidate for governor, Debra Medina, said there have been more than 89 eminent domain actions.

Ms. Crawford has started a legal defense fund, Stand With Julia, overseen by Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Tex., and a noted anti-fracking activist. The site has raised more than $6,000, mostly in donations of under $50.

Asked if she would take TransCanada’s offer now — if it meant the full $21,000, with all of her conditions met — she did not hesitate. “No,” she said. “There’s a $20,000 check sitting in the courthouse waiting for us,” she said. “But if we touch it, game over. We lose the use of our land, and we admit what they’re doing is right.”

She shook her head. “We may lose the case. Hell, we’ll probably lose,” she said. “But I played basketball for A&M. I was raised to compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to get your teeth kicked in. You go out there and fight.”


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