“You guys probably get a laugh out of how many times Steele City is mentioned in the news,” said TransCanada Representative Robert Latimer to the Steele City Village Board on Monday. He assured the board and the citizens that, “Steele City is a very critical piece of [TransCanada’s] pipeline system.”
After a different TransCanada representative failed to appear at the village board meeting in April, Latimer traveled to meet with the board and citizens, asking for their support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
This renewed effort by TransCanada for the Keystone XL Pipeline comes as President Donald Trump voiced support for the project, inviting them to reapply for a presidential permit. Now, they are waiting for the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) to have a formal hearing in August. TransCanada expects the commission to make a decision sometime in November. He invited the board to show support for the project by providing comments on the project at a Public Service Commission Meeting in York on Wednesday.
“We would be encouraged by the support that the board might have for our project,” said Latimer. “It could be with a resolution of support, it could be with a letter to the Nebraska PSC just stating your positive support for the project. It could be individually as board members or citizens doing the same thing. If you were really so moved, you could come to York, Nebraska on Wednesday and make a public comment. That would be great.”
Steele City is a major hub for the Keystone XL Pipeline, Latimer noted, as roughly 500,000 barrels of oil is already pumped through an existing pipeline. Latimer explained that a new pump station would be constructed near the current one just outside of the village.
Jefferson County is poised to receive some tax benefits from the project, Latimer believes, noting that there has already been a substantial amount of tax revenue received by the county.
“That tax revenue is already being received and paid in annual remittances that are made to property tax,” said Latimer. “There would be an additional amount of property tax paid to Jefferson County. In the 2015 year, the actual property tax that we paid in Jefferson County was just over $1 million.”
Here is a video clip of Latimer’s presentation on Monday:
Jefferson County Commissioner Mark Schoenrock asked about the timeline of the project and whether the county had any infrastructure agreements they would have to make to help with construction. Latimer responded that it would take roughly two construction seasons to complete the work on the pipeline, and that they would be in contact with the county to discuss the use of roads and other infrastructure issues. He emphasized that TransCanada already has a majority of the easements necessary for the project.
“Along the entire route of the pipeline in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, we have greater than 90 percent of all the private easements in our hand,” Latimer said. “In Nebraska, it’s approximately 91 percent of land owners that we have an agreement with. Those landowners that we don’t have an agreement with, upon receiving a favorable ruling from the Nebraska PSC, we would go forward and finalize those agreements. I believe the authority granted through the major oil pipeline application process does allow the use of eminent domain. However, that would be our last resort.”
Jerry Duke, a citizen of Steele City, asked about eminent domain, noting that the option is worrisome to him.
“Talking about the KXL project today as it is, we have not followed through with the whole eminent domain process from start to finish,” said Latimer. “As a company, it’s our intention to negotiate in a fair and honest manner with the land owners to provide them just compensation for the taking. We try to do that in all cases.”
Two people expressed their concerns about safety. Duke asked about the company’s safety track record and Board Member Megan Sothan asked about the way they clean up an area after a leak.
“We have had some very small leaks on our system,” Latimer said. “A lot of those were at pump stations where the fittings needed to be tightened up or replaced. We’re talking about gallons of oil spilled within a pump station site. We have had a couple of larger releases: one at a pump station and then last April we had a very small leak over a longer period of time on a piece of the pipeline in South Dakota that we went in and discovered and cleaned up.
“With the example in South Dakota where there was this small leak discovered, a landowner smelled something and saw this oil, and he called us,” Latimer continued. “We went out and investigated; we dug down and we found that there was a very small leak in the pipe. We took the step of excavating around the pipeline, all the contaminated dirt. All that got hauled away to a waste management facility in Minnesota and replaced it with clean dirt. […] It took some time to clean up, but we fixed it, and so we move on.”
During his discussion with the board, Latimer explained that no permanent jobs would be created in Steele City or Jefferson County if the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved, though he noted that there may be some opportunities for temporary jobs.
“There’s the construction jobs that come along with this project, the actual physical pipeline construction jobs,” said Latimer. “Frankly, a lot of those jobs will be a labor force that follows the different pipeline spreads along. Some of those people could be local. They typically work for contractors that they know and have worked for before. At the pump station, that’s a longer stretch of work at the site, so you could have some local people working there. […] There’s not many [permanent employees], because of the nature of the technology we use, these sites are really automated.”
Mayor Tammy Katz asked the board for their thoughts on signing a resolution to support the project, and Sothan responded that it would warrant more discussion. After Latimer finished his presentation, Jefferson County Zoning Administrator John McKee noted that TransCanada’s permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline have already been approved in Jefferson County.