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Deal may end area oil pipeline protests

By by Peggy Jones
Jan. 25, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Attorneys for TransCanada and anti-pipeline groups reached an agreement Friday in Wood County District Court that could signal a retreat on the part of tree sitters and other demonstrators who have dogged a controversial oil pipeline crossing East Texas.

TransCanada spokesman David Dodson said the company obtained a permanent injunction against Tar Sands Blockade, Rising Tide North America, Rising Tide Texas and 20 individual defendants.

"This is a significant development," Dodson said. "The judgment that was signed on Friday afternoon was agreed to by all of these individuals and organizations."

In the permanent injunction, protesters agreed they will not go onto TransCanada property to protest; will not prevent access to the company's right of way easements or equipment or that of contractors and will not threaten or harm any employees of the company or its contractors.

It encompasses all TransCanada and pipeline contractor properties, personnel and easements in Texas and Oklahoma.

"We are hopeful the protesters mean what they say in this agreement," Dodson said.

Work on TransCanada's Gulf Coast pipeline project from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast has been stalled repeatedly by protests in Franklin, Wood, Smith and Nacogdoches counties.

The controversial project drew national attention this past year when actress Darryl Hannah was arrested in Wood County.

Three people - all from out of state - were arrested in December near Winona after they crawled inside a section of pipe to stall work on the $7 billion project. Others have chained themselves to equipment and built tree houses on easements to stop tree-clearing.

"The poor law enforcement guys have been tied up so long they can't do their jobs," Dodson said. "And hopefully those days are over.

The company has a target completion date of late 2013 for the Gulf Coast pipeline.

Efforts to reach spokespeople for the TarSands Blockade were unsuccessful Friday evening.

Earlier this week, the governor of Nebraska approved a revised route through the state for the Keystone XL pipeline, and, on Wednesday, more than half of U.S. senators urged quick approval.

A letter signed by 53 senators said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of the new route puts the long-delayed project squarely in the president's hands.

"We urge you to choose jobs, economic development and American energy security," the letter said, adding that the pipeline "has gone through the most exhaustive environmental scrutiny of any pipeline" in U.S. history.

"There is no reason to deny or further delay this long-studied project," said the letter, which was initiated by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., and signed by 44 Republicans and nine Democrats. Another Democrat, Jon Tester of Montana, supports the pipeline but did not sign the letter.

"We have been very heartened by recent events," Dodson said. "But we are not presuming anything."

The State Department said Tuesday it does not expect to complete a review of the project before the end of March. The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crosses a U.S. border.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report



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