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Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline: Fears, Suspicions Join Landowners at Negotiating Table

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STUART, Neb. -- When Byron Steskal first saw it on the land where he was born nearly six decades ago -- land that his parents bought for $5.15 an acre -- he recalled writing down a statement on Post-it notes before calling the sheriff's office.

It was still standing, just inside the fence that marks Steskal's family property, during his trip home with a reporter on a recent summer afternoon. Scribbled on the bright pink surveying stake were two letters, "T.C.," that he couldn't help but read as a message.

As the farmer-turned-trucker saw it, T.C. stood for TransCanada Corp., the sponsor of the Keystone XL pipeline that is slated to carry Canadian oil sands crude across his land. The stake, Steskal said, seemed a pointed reply to the sign he had long ago posted inside his fence. "NO Trespassing," it reads. "ESP[ecially] TransCanada."

Steskal and his neighbors are the newest infantrymen and women in the long war between pipeline-resistant landowners and a company committed to delivering more than 800,000 barrels a day of heavy Canadian fuel to U.S. refineries. TransCanada had reached easement agreements with more than 90 percent of residents in the path of its controversial pipeline before agreeing to steer Keystone XL around the delicate Nebraska Sand Hills. Looking only at the newly rerouted corridor, that number falls to more than 70 percent.

The difficulty is no accident. Pipeline foes in this agriculture-rich state are marshaling behind a new Nebraska Easement Action Team (NEAT), led by a prominent trial lawyer, in a bid to work out the best possible common easement deal with TransCanada.

The project was designed to include both landowners who object to the pipeline outright on environmental or economic grounds, and those like Steskal, who doesn't oppose its construction so long as the route is moved farther to the east, parallel to the XL line's predecessor. But NEAT gives the same advice to every rancher on the route: Don't let anyone on your land, even for a preliminary survey. Don't be tempted by signing bonuses.
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