Texas is becoming a safe place for for corporations — in this case, the TransCanada oil company — to work ahead of final court decisions and do their thing while mere citizens are strung along in the legal system.
Pipeline sections which are already stacked within a locked fence near Beaumont — to be used for part of TransCanada’s Keystone XL hot-oil-sludge pipeline — could possibly be routed underground months, or maybe even years, before court cases involving landowners in the pipeline’s path are fully settled.
Since first reporting about Texas rancher Julia Trigg Crawford’s continual resistance of TransCanada’s relentless effort to extend the southern tier of its 1,700-mile pipeline from west-central Canada to Houston area refineries, this writer has learned that a growing number of Texans are fighting Alberta-based TransCanada and its project to send “tar sands crude” across North America—with most reports saying the final product will be exported rather than becoming the lifeblood of a domestic economic rebound, as proponents claim.
Things are getting confrontational. In the East Texas town, Winnsboro, protesters, including some from the group Tar Sands Blockade, have literally 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 — for which construction started in August from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
On Oct. 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 are carving a path as wide as 50 feet.
Yet the only thing that surpasses the extreme corporate overreach of our time in history is the refusal of government to stand up for the common person. This writer 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. Sept. 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 farmers’ properties.
According to a copy of the Sept. 28 ruling, Judge Rugg jumped ahead and approved a writ of possession, allowing TransCanada to start digging to lay the pipeline even before three affected landowners in this case — David Holland, Harold Dishman and Mickey Phelan — have finalized a suitable price and conditions for access through their land.
Holland already has some 50 utility pipes, of one kind or another, running under his land. “We do one a year,” he told this writer. Holland typically receives fair payment for granting land access in past projects not involving TransCanada. But with TransCanada, an original offer to Holland of $447,000 was dropped to $20,880 by court-appointed commissioners, he told AFP. He feels the property is worth $550,000.
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 Green.
The justices unanimously ruled that Denbury Green 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. (Public use example: A highway available to all which helps general commerce, not just one particular company)
A company should have to prove their right to eminent domain “before trenching [for] the pipeline begins,” added a statement from We Texans, just before Judge Rugg’s ruling. Yet, the deck is virtually always stacked for the corporations — which get their land access upfront.
And Ms. Crawford around Oct. 9 filed a motion for a new trial in the same Lamar County Court where Judge Bill Harris hurriedly granted TransCanada subcontractors a writ of possession to enter Ms. Crawford’s property—prior to his official Aug. 22 final ruling. She’ll appeal his ruling to a higher court if he does not grant a new trial.
When the subcontractors first showed up to begin trenching through part of Ms. Crawford’s ranch in northeast Texas, she kicked them off her land, while assuming she lives in a world where such work cannot begin until the legal process runs its full course. But TransCanada is working around the clock to dig trenches, weld together pipe sections and push ahead — as if no legal impediments exist.
“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 said, expressing disbelief. “My understanding is that in East Texas [by Winnsboro] they [TransCanada] are starting work at 4 in the morning. Here by my place, there were truck loads 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?”
Mr. Holland, depending on what happens at the state level, plans to ascend to the federal level. “I’m going to go for a ‘42 U.S.C. 1983’ case in federal court, against violating my civil rights under color of law,” he said, hoping that Fifth Amendment limits against land takings without just compensation still mean something in the US.
Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2012
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