The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline has moved from the White House to a farm in Texas. Third-generation farmer Julia Trigg Crawford is engaged in a court battle over whether TransCanada, the company that wants to build the massive pipeline from Canada to Texas, has a right to declare eminent domain on a portion of her family’s farm.
Early last week, TransCanada announced that it intends to move forward with the portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that extends from Oklahoma down to Texas. This 485-mile-long portion of the pipeline doesn’t cross international borders, which means it won’t need approval from the State Department or President Obama. But it does cross right through Red’Arc Farm, which Crawford and her family own.
The farm is in Direct, Texas, a small town about 20 miles northwest of Paris (city notable for it’s own 65-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower, complete with a cowboy hat on top). Along with her father, sister, and brother, Crawford, 53, tends to her soybeans, wheat, corn, orchards, and cattle on this 600-acre property where the Red River and Bois d’Arc Creek meet. Her grandfather bought the land in 1948, and Crawford currently lives in the farmhouse.
Back in 2008, the family got notice that TransCanada was interested in running a pipeline through a 30-acre pasture area. Crawford says they were first offered $7,000 for use of the land, though the figure later increased to $20,000. The Crawfords weren’t entirely opposed to having a pipeline run through the farm since there are several others running through the county. “Pipelines are not foreign here,” Crawford says. But then an initial archeological assessment of the property conducted by a firm the company hired found that the portion of the pasture the company was first interested in was full of artifacts left by the Caddo, a local American Indian tribe. That was not a big surprise to Crawford. “I pick up pieces of pottery all the time when I walk the dogs,” she says. She keeps the bits of pottery and arrowheads she finds in a large jar.
So the company proposed an alternate route through another corner of the same pasture, hoping to avoid the archeological site. But according to the next inspection the archeological firm undertook, there were no artifacts in this new corner. That the second dig turned up nothing made Crawford suspicious, and she decided to get an independent survey of the site—which again turned up quite a few artifacts (see the archaeologist’s report here). She hoped that the reports would force TransCanada to pick a new route, but she says the company insisted on going right through the pasture. “They said if you don’t sign the easement we have the right to condemn the land and take it through eminent domain,” she said.
She had other concerns about the pipeline, like the repercussions of a spill or the impact building the line might have on her ability to use the pasture. She says she tried to talk to the local contact person for the company and asked for concessions like thicker pipe metal, deeper burial, and assurance that her family would be compensated if the pipeline spilled into the creek they use for irrigation. The company didn’t offer any concessions, she says, and instead took the Crawfords to court last fall to claim eminent domain on the property. (The company has taken a similar tack with landowners in Nebraska as well.)