Landowners groups formed to protect, not oppose pipeline

By Kay Braddock

  It’s clear Kent and Christie Liles know quite a bit about TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. If visiting with them on the topic isn’t proof enough, the sight inside their home should be. A conference table covered with stacks of folders filled with hundreds – if not thousands – of pages detailing varying aspects of the project, sits in their living room. It has become the nerve center for the couple’s undertaking to understand the proposed pipeline that is scheduled to run through nine miles of their property.

“I don’t take it lightly,” Christie Liles explained. “It’s important.”
The Liles joined Eastern Montana Landowners Group. It’s one of two area landowners groups negotiating with TransCanada to ensure private property concerns are addressed. The other group is Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group.
Joining Eastern Montana Landowners Group wasn’t about opposing the pipeline, Christie explains. It had to do with protecting their property.
“We realize the growth and taxation and property taxes and the need for industry in the state,” Christie said, detailing what the oil pipeline is likely to bring. “But we just want some issues and concerns addressed.”
Being labeled for or against the pipeline is a common misconception, she said. “We as landowners, the concerns that we have and that we’ve raised at all of these meetings is our job security for our farms and ranches and it’s the protection of our land.”
Producer Tim Hess, who joined the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group, expressed similar sentiments after the scoping meeting in Terry.
“Nobody here is against the pipeline,” Hess said. “We just want to be certain it’s fair and equitable and that our property is cared for.”
Talking with property owners in Valley and Phillips Counties, where TransCanada’s Northern Border Pipeline was installed in the 1980’s, Christie said was enlightening. “Basically overall, all of the landowners that I had talked to up there, they were either going out on their own (for negotiations) or forming a small group, or they were satisfied with things the way they had went.” Adding, “It kind of made me really sit back and start looking and digging and researching.”
The Eastern Montana Landowners Group works as a coalition with two other groups affected by the Keystone XL project. The other two groups are Protect South Dakota Resources and Landowners For Fairness in Nebraska.
Montana’s Major Facility Siting Act and the Montana Environmental Protection Act provides Montana landowners with more protection than in other states, Christie said. Under the MFSA, projects are required to use as much state land as economically possible, rather than private property. The two acts also ensure proper reclamation of property.
In a letter to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality late last year the group addressed four concerns: Liability, bonding, reclamation and abandonment of the pipeline.
Another misconception may be the tax revenues counties can expect to receive. 
Christie questioned the preliminary tax revenue estimates given to county officials by TransCanada. If TransCanada’s request for a special permit is granted, will tax revenues be less? That’s a question Christie posed at the scoping meeting in Glendive. It’s one she recalled  government officials and TransCanada representatives were unable to answer.
  “It’s a legitimate question,” Christie said. “What we’re expecting as counties, we might not receive.”

Published May 26, 2010

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