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Landowner tells of problems along first Keystone pipeline

PIERRE, S.D. -- The hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route through South Dakota took a U-turn into the past Tuesday, as a landowner testified about her family's repeated misfortunes dealing with TransCanada's original Keystone pipel...

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PIERRE, S.D. - The hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route through South Dakota took a U-turn into the past Tuesday, as a landowner testified about her family's repeated misfortunes dealing with TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline project.

Sue Sibson, of rural Howard, told members of the state Public Utilities Commission that invasive plants the family's cattle won't eat now grow in place of the native pasture that was torn up to lay the oil line underground through Miner County in 2009.

Her husband, Mike Sibson, brought a sample of spikeweed from the easement area to show the commission.

"The cattle leave it alone. They don't touch it," she said.

Spikeweed is widely considered a pest grass. "It's not native. It never should have been planted in the first place," she said.

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TransCanada contractors have seeded or sprayed and sometimes done both every year since 2009. None of the efforts produced any significant growth of the types of grass that the cattle will graze.

"There's no grass growing there. I should say, very little," she said.

James Moore, a lawyer representing TransCanada, cross-examined her. Among the questions was how much the Sibsons received from TransCanada each year for lost crops and lost grazing on the 17 acres of easement.

"We had to sign confidentiality agreements with TransCanada," she replied.

She estimated she and her husband have spent 3,000 hours dealing with TransCanada and doing research since 2006.

PUC chairman Chris Nelson asked a series of questions. "It'd never been broke. You're right. It's virgin," she told him about the pasture.

She said one TransCanada contract crew planted the grass seed at 15 to 20 miles per hour "in road gear" pulling a drill. Nelson sounded incredulous.

Asked by Nelson what is the difference between her property and the neighbors' land, she replied, "It looks the same."

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He asked a last question: "Obviously, this is a failure. How would you have done it differently?"

She said the county's grasslands advisory team provided instructions on how to reseed native ground and the suggestions weren't followed. "Most of it's just being timely to get the grasses established," she said.

Another PUC member, Gary Hanson, toured the Sibson property Sept. 10, 2014. He asked if conditions were the same.

"Actually, it's worse," she said. "I didn't do that," Hanson joked. "No, you didn't," she replied.

Since his visit, TransCanada replanted this spring but didn't spray to kill the old vegetation and didn't turn the soil, she said.

"They just drilled over the top of the area," she said.

The original completion date was Sept. 29, 2009, when it was seeded the first time, she said, and the company has asked two times since then for the Sibsons to sign off that reclamation is complete.

"Just twice," Hanson replied. He paused and added, "I shouldn't say just."

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She responded, "Twice is enough."

Another witness for opponents of the pipeline permit on Tuesday was Errol Douglas Crow Ghost Jr., water resources administrator and director for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

He said the Keystone XL would cross the south fork of the Grand River that runs through the Standing Rock reservation, but there's been no analysis of possible effects on the quantity or quality of tribe's water supply.

The potential for disruption in case of a spill is "very great," he said, and the tribal government hasn't been contacted regarding a risk assessment.

He said information about whether there is a high consequence area-a term for a place that would be severely affected by a spill-in the area of the reservation would be useful.

Tuesday's proceedings marked the eighth day for the hearing, which could run through Friday and possibly beyond.

The Keystone XL pipeline's route would run through western South Dakota on a roughly 45-degree angle from the Montana corner into central Nebraska.

It would carry oil from tar sands in the Hardisty, Alberta, area and connect with an existing heavy-crude distribution system in Nebraska.

TransCanada received a state permit for the South Dakota segment in 2010, but the company has been waiting for approval from President Barack Obama to pierce the U.S. border.

State law requires the PUC to certify whether the permit conditions can continue to be met if construction hasn't started within four years. Certification of the 50 conditions set in the 2010 permit is the purpose of the current hearing.

 

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
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