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Landowners, environmentalists comment to Dept. of State on Keystone XL Pipeline

The United States Department of State held a public meeting in Murdo, May 12, to receive public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that has been presented for approval as part of the permit process for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which will cross western South Dakota.

The meeting was attended by around 60 people, including local landowners, environmental group activists, nature conservationists and representatives from Trans-Canada, the company proposing the pipeline.

The purpose of the DEIS is to authorize a presidential permit for the pipeline, due to the border crossing between Canada and Montana. Because the United States Department of State is not a regulatory agency, it does not issue permits for the pipeline for the rest of the miles it would run within the states in the United States, according to Elizabeth Orlando, who was representing the U.S. Department of State.

Due to time restraints, speakers were asked to limit their comments to an eight minute length, which upset several who had signed up and had brought with them prepared documents to read. All comments were recorded for a permanent record and will be transcribed to be made part of the final Environmental Impact Statement. Speakers were asked to limit their comments to the impact the proposed pipeline would have on environmental issues.

First to speak was Jones County landowner Paul Seamans, who said he would have approximately 1.5 miles of pipeline across his property. His concerns were for potential spills and the consequences of such spills.

Lon Lyman, also from Jones County, spoke about his concerns with conservation issues and the migratory birds that could be affected. He said, "We do not want our wildlife disturbed. It is a way of life for us." He referred to his parents and grandparents and their efforts to maintain the wildlife on their 105-year-old ranch in western Jones County.

Jim Bierle, Midland, believed, "We're not going to stop this project but (feels) that there are better places to put it." He said the land and grasslands he has are under the supervision of a range management specialist in order to maintain the species of grass and wildflowers that are currently there and expressed his concerns for them. He said, "I don't see that we are going to gain much other than a one-time payment."

A rancher from the Winner area, John Harter, felt the comment time frame was "insufficient" and that "it has been crammed down our throat with little time to comment."

His concerns were with the pipeline thickness and the request to allow the Keystone XL pipe to have thinner walls while allowing for more pressure. He said, "With more pressure and thinner walls, that is an environmental disaster waiting to happen."

Peter Carrels, Aberdeen, represented the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club and was one of the speakers who had a significantly longer speech prepared, but had to pare down his thoughts into the allowed time.

John Iversen was the final local resident to speak. He narrowed his concerns into two categories. The first was the water quality. He noted that the proposed path of the pipeline would follow some river or creek beds and the potential for the banks of the river to shift and bring down the pipe with it, causing a leak into the water. The second concern was for the abandoned pipe when the company was finished with it. He said that issue "needs to be addressed."

Pat Spears, represented the Intertribal Council from Lower Brule. He said he was at the meeting "in support of protection of the land, culture and wildlife." He also brought up concerns with the source of the oil, in the tar sands in Canada.

Several representatives from the Indigenous Environmental Network spoke. They were asked to hold their comments until the end because they had been at the meeting the night before in Atkinson, NE, and Orlando wanted to hear from all people who were interested in giving public comments.

A former pipeline welder spoke on the safety measures that are taken in the construction of the pipe. Philip Wallace, Arkansas, noted that the Keystone environmental program is very strict and safe. He said, "I make sure there are qualified welders who follow Department of Transportation procedures." He also has been tasked to pre-test the pipeline after it is laid to ensure there are no leaks. He said "It's all done to ensure this project is safe."

Participants at the meeting were reminded that they can still make comments regarding the DEIS and have until June 16 to do so. Copies of the DEIS are available at area libraries in communities such as Philip, Wall, Kennebec, Presho, Winner, Faith, Bison, Rapid City and Pierre. It can also be viewed online at www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov.

Mail comments to Elizabeth Orlando, Keystone XL Project Manager, U.S. Department of State, OES/ENV Room 2657, Washington, DC 20530. Note that mail can be delayed due to security screening and the mail must be postmarked no later than June 16, 2010. Fax comments to: 202-647-1052. E-mail comments to: xlpipe lineproject@state.gov. Comment via the Keystone XL EIS website: www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov.