TransCanada's pipeline, some landowners say, is more worrisome than those built by other companies because of the tar sands oil the company wants to transport. They point to an 800,000-gallon spill of mostly tar sands oil in Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010. It took Enbridge, the company that owns that pipeline, 17 hours to detect the rupture, and the cleanup is still incomplete.
With a pipeline, landowners give up control of the land for a one-time check, risking a spill that could contaminate their land or water for years. It's a risk many are willing to take in exchange for cash — to a point.
Some say the risk of a spill now is too high to cooperate. Others want guarantees TransCanada will take full responsibility for a spill.
Many just want respect.
Most pipeline projects in Texas have been completed with an average of 4 percent to 10 percent of condemned land. TransCanada, however, has condemned more than 100 of the 800 or so tracts — or about 12.5 percent — of the land it needed to complete a 485-mile portion of the pipeline that runs through Texas.
TransCanada has "common carrier" status in Texas, which allows companies building projects benefiting the public to condemn private property. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled if a landowner challenges a condemnation, the company must prove its project is for the public good.
Crawford, whose family has denied other pipelines access to their land, argues that since TransCanada's pipeline will have only one access point — or a place where oil can get into the pipe — at a hub in Cushing, Okla., it does not qualify for the status, which requires the pipeline be accessible in Texas.
"This is not about the money," said Crawford, who notes that TransCanada's final offer of $20,000 amounts to less than $1 a day over 60 years, less time than her family has been on the land. "This is about the right of a landowner to control what happens on their land."
David Dodson, a TransCanada spokesman in Houston, said the company has agreements with 60,000 landowners in North America, hundreds of them in Texas. Many have been reached easily, he said. The problems in Texas, he believes, may just be a sign of the times.
"These days, anyone who attempts to build a linear infrastructure project, Texas, wherever it is, it doesn't matter, is facing increased opposition," Dodson said.
David Holland's 3,850-acre rice farm and ranch in southeast Jefferson County is littered with nearly 50 pipelines. In the five years since he was first approached by TransCanada, he said he has signed contracts with two other companies. He insists he would do the same for TransCanada — if they offered him fair value for his 10.5 acres.
Until now, Holland said, he and other landowners had given pipeline companies a roughly 20 percent discount because it was cheaper than fighting Big Oil. TransCanada offered him more than $400,000 for his land. But that, he said, was about $200 less for every 16.5 feet than he had previously received. After Holland declined, the court allowed TransCanada to take the land for $13 for every 16.5 feet — totaling slightly more than $20,000.
"Every landowner in the state is furious at them," he said.
Some landowners have reached agreements without a problem. Henry Duncan, whose 200-acre farm is across the road from the Crawford's, wouldn't say how much TransCanada paid, but feels he was fairly compensated for his 7 acres. He does wish they would use American-made steel for the pipe and hire local workers. He, too, feels they bullied landowners, but is realistic.
Pipeline money helps keep his 100 head of cattle roaming the pastures. It could help him and his wife as they age.
"To be quite honest, I'd like to see another one come through because they pay good," Duncan said.
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