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Lamar County pipeline hearing awaits ruling

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 10, 2012 at 11 p.m.

A judge in Paris holds the fates of a North Texas landowner and a Canadian pipeline company after a hearing Friday over whether an eminent domain claim goes to full trial.

Meanwhile, crews who will lay the 485-mile Texas/Oklahoma leg of a 2,630-mile specialized pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast are settling into Lone Star State locations.

Julia Trigg Crawford and her family, owners of a Lamar County farm, filed suit in August 2011 to block pipeline company TransCanada from burrowing its Keystone Pipeline through their land.

The case, which has seen several delays, including a sidetrack through a Texarkana appeals court, is set for trial Sept. 4.

Lamar County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris heard arguments Friday on a TransCanada motion to halt the trial. The company argues the court lacks jurisdiction.

"We expect a decision the week after next," TransCanada company spokesman Jim Prescott said Friday evening by phone. "We are confident the court will find in our favor and for what we believe is a strong argument and follow the law."

Crawford limited her comment after Friday's day long hearing.

"No ruling," she said in a text message to the News-Journal. "We gave 'em heck."

Crawford's fight also has drawn the attention of property rights advocates including Debra Medina, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate with strong tea party backing. She and others, including Crawford, question why the state apparently does not verify that a company actually is a common carrier when it checks that box on a Texas Railroad Commission application.

Common carrier status is the key to eminent domain authority for private, non-governmental entities hoping to force landowners to relinquish rights of way.

Crawford said Thursday that she has testified twice to an interim committee of the Texas Legislature that the eminent domain stature needs to be clarified.

Meanwhile, the company hoping to add a 485-mile leg to the 2,145-mile line from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Okla., is laying the pipeline in Texas.

"We've started construction in Texas down on the southern end," Prescott said.

And Don Tally, co-owner of Barefoot Bay Marina Resort and RV Park on Lake Bob Sandlin north of Pittsburg, said Friday that Keystone workers are arriving.

"A few of them," he said. "They've made reservations for 44 RVs. I guess they're betting the judge is going to rule for them."

There will be more than a few Keystone crew members eventually, he added.

"They say there's going to be 900 people come in that are involved in that pipeline in that Pittsburg area up there," Talley said. "That's what they tell me, the people at the company. They'll be spread out all over."

The Keystone project is a 2,145-mile pipeline from the oil sands below Hardisty, Alberta in Canada to Cushing, Okla. The pipelines builder and owner, TransCanada, intends to lay another 485 miles from that mid-Oklahoma town to Nederland on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Lamar County is the Texas gateway to the 18 other counties on the Keystone path.

Nearby, the proposed line is drawn to cut beneath northeast Wood, southwest Upshur, east Smith and southwest Rusk counties.

Environmentalists and property owners have opposed the pipeline out of concern it will not safely transport the oil sands, a thick mix of Canadian oil and clay or other thick soils in which it is embedded.

Oil sands, called tar sands by pipeline opponents, are propelled through the pipe by a chemical process that produces many times the normal per-square-inch pressure normal crude oil creates. Landowners and environmentalists say the chemicals used in the process would contaminate vital aquifers if a rupture occurred.

TransCanada has another potential road block down the line. The small Rusk County towns of Reklaw and Gallatin, combined populations 640, hope the regional planning commission they formed under Texas' Local Government Code will add legal muscle to their ongoing fight.



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