Special Report: Landowners Sound Off As They Await the Governor's Keystone XL Decision

By: Rowena Li Email
By: Rowena Li Email

These days, Byron Steskal and his nephew don't speak to each other, even though they live just down the road.

"There's kind of some hard feelings. Matter of fact, I don't speak to him and he doesn't speak to me, and pretty much said, you mind your business and I'll mind mine," said Steskal, a landowner in Stuart, Neb.

It's all because of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Steskal and many of his neighbors in Holt County are adamantly against the pipeline, both the old and the new proposed routes.

"I don't think a foreign company should be able to go through our land like this. Because we reap no benefits, we're just being used," said Lavonne Beck, whose land is also on the new proposed route.

They say there are no benefits, only the chance of catastrophic damages.

"Possible contamination of the water is the main thing. That is our lifeblood up here," said Richard Kilmurry, whose mother's land would be impacted if the Keystone XL is approved.

"We have to irrigate to raise this food. And if this water becomes tainted, we're done for," Steskal added.

But the risk of major water contamination is a point that supporters of the pipeline say the latest Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has refuted.

"The worst-case leak would not impact a large amount of the [Ogallala] Aquifer. However, on a localized basis, it would be a severe situation that no one would want to have, myself included. So that is a legitimate concern," said Tom Briese, a farmer in Boone County.

To that end, Briese said he believes TransCanada needs to put a mechanism in place to compensate landowners for any damages.

But opponents say they don't want to take any chances with any leaks.

"We drink the water, the livestock, the crops, our whole livelihood has to do with the water. And it's not if there's a leak, it's when there's a leak," said landowner Sandra Brener.

"It's going to spread through all of the water. If you pee in one spot in the swimming pool, it'll go through the whole pool. And that's the same kind of deal with this tar sand oil," added Beck.

And opponents say they'll fight for their rights for as long as they can.

"I don't think anybody is going to give up as long as we've got a chance," said Kilmurry.

"You've got to continue pushing or they're going to run over the top of us," added landowner Lloyd Hipke. "We've got to try to get everything we can to protect ourselves, our land, and our kids' land and water."

This is Part 1 of a special report on the opinions of landowners along the new proposed Keystone XL route.


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