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Court stops work on Keystone XL pipeline in East Texas

By Kenny Mitchell kmitchell@news-journal.com
March 5, 2012 at 11 p.m.


A temporary restraining order against TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline in East Texas has been reinstated by a state appellate court in Texarkana.

Friday's action was an almost instant reversal of fortunes for Julia Trigg Crawford, who had seen the Feb. 13 order dissolved a week earlier by a Lamar County judge.

"We are very pleased," Crawford said Sunday. "That means TransCanada can't come in and start construction."

As the operator of her family's farm in Lamar County, Crawford sought the restraining order in response to TransCanada's attempts to take the land through eminent domain, and because of concerns the pipeline will damage Caddo Indian antiquities in its path. The order issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will keep TransCanada off the Crawford family land while lawyers continue arguing. TransCanada has five days to respond to the court's decision.

Discussions with TransCanada began a few years ago, Crawford has said, when the Canadian company approached her family about building the pipeline through her land as part of a Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur route. Her family wasn't interested, however. That led TransCanada to seek eminent domain last fall. Crawford is appealing the claim of eminent domain in a trial scheduled for April 30. Concerns for water quality and public safety in the event of a spill also will be heard.

Crawford isn't alone in her hesitance to allow TransCanada to build across Texas. Other protests have spilled from the project, including in Rusk County, where Reklaw and Gallatin created a regional planning commission. The two towns, combined population 640, hope that designation under Texas' Local Government Code gives them legal leverage to get the same water and public safety questions answered as the pipeline snakes toward them.

The line's proposed route takes it through northeastern Wood, southwestern Upshur, eastern Smith and southwestern Rusk counties.

According to the order reinstated Friday, TransCanada "is restrained from entering on the Crawford Family Farm Partnership land and from performing any and all on-site activities that disturb the surface or subsurface of the land."

Mark Lesher, a Texarkana attorney representing Crawford, said his client has multiple concerns but the antiquities have become a key issue.

"There is a problem because of the Texas Antiquities Code," he said. "That code says that the state of Texas owns the artifacts ... We are saying until these artifacts are documented and preserved that the pipeline should not disturb them."

The project also has raised concerns about Texans' property rights, as TransCanada has used eminent domain to acquire a number of tracts. Eminent domain is used by government entities and "common carriers" such as utilities to acquire land for public projects. Critics of the company are challenging its authority to use eminent domain, citing a 2011 Texas Supreme Court decision that makes it harder for pipelines to meet the definition of a common carrier.

Late last month, TransCanada said it was working to build the southern extension as a standalone project. Because it does not cross an international boundary, it did not require approval from President Barack Obama or the State Department.

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