Demonstrators, law enforcement prepare for KXL hearings

Laying the first Keystone Pipeline near Norfolk, Nebraska in 2009. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)
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July 12, 2017 - 6:45am

As the Nebraska Public Service Commission prepares for a hearing that could determine if the Keystone XL pipeline gets built, anti-pipeline demonstrators and law enforcement are preparing as well. People involved have been meeting to try and head off any potential problems.


The stakes, for people involved in the pipeline issue, couldn’t be much higher.

“Everybody across the country knows that this is the last stand where we can potentially be stopping the permit in Nebraska. So this is kind of the last opportunity to show a public display of opposition,” said Jane Kleeb, head of the group Bold Alliance, which opposes the pipeline.

Jane Kleeb (Photo courtesy Nebraska Democratic Party)

Kleeb was talking about the Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing, scheduled Aug. 7-11 in Lincoln, on the Keystone XL project. The commission’s decision is one of the last legal obstacles facing the pipeline.

The weeklong hearing, and a planned march the Sunday before, have drawn the attention of Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister.

“Unfortunately, there have been examples across the country where pipeline issues have morphed into property damage, violence, (and) civil unrest,” Bliemeister said.

Bliemeister said his department has been planning how to handle the situation for three months. Police officers have been told not to ask for time off the week of the hearing. Department officials have met with Bold and other pipeline opponents, including 350.org, and the Sierra Club, as well as with pipeline company TransCanada. Bliemeister said they’ve also been briefed by law enforcement agencies, including the Nebraska State Patrol, who were involved in handling demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The chief said the goal is simple.

“We want to facilitate an environment that is conducive for whatever side of the issue that you’re on,” he said.

And Bliemeister has a message for demonstrators who are coming to Lincoln. 

“Bring your beliefs, share your beliefs, do so in a civil manner, and do not interject property damage or violence into our community,” Bliemeister said.

Checks by NET News with pipeline supporters found no plans for pro-pipeline demonstrations at this point. And Kleeb said following Bliemeister’s advice shouldn’t be a problem for opponents who have waged a nearly decade-long struggle against the proposed pipeline.

“We always do actions filled with integrity and creativity. We don’t break laws. And we’re excited about the Public Service Commission’s process,” Kleeb said.

Jeff Bliemeister (Photo courtesy Lincoln Police Department)

Kleeb said pipeline opponents are on the lookout for people who might try and infiltrate their ranks and cause trouble.

“The last thing that we want is eight years of hard work to be tainted in a negative way because some idiot decides that they’re going to pretend to be a pipeline fighter and act really stupid. So, you know, we watch for that all the time,” Kleeb said.

And she said they listen to what potential infiltrators say, and even watch what they wear.

“We can also tell by just some of the actions they do or we look for their shoes…because usually they try to ‘fit in ‘so usually they’re like brand new shoes. New Birkenstocks, new Doc Martens, you know, so we look for stuff like that,” she explained.

Bliemeister said no one has told him of any such efforts by pipeline supporters or opponents.

“During my individual conversations with those on both sides of the issue, I have not received any input where they are doing some type of intelligence gathering or countersurveillance type of techniques,” he said.

Kleeb said she expects perhaps 500 people to march on the day before the hearings begin. Tentative plans call for the march to make a round trip between the state Capitol and the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, where the hearings will be held.  The State Patrol will provide security during the hearings. In addition to Bold, and 350.org, she said she expects representatives of the Ponca and Winnebago tribes, tribes from South Dakota, and the Indigenous Environmental Network to attend. And she says opponents of pipelines in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado may come in by bus as well.

Kleeb said the purpose of the march on that Sunday is to give pipeline opponents a chance to show their opposition before the hearings get underway.

“We’re not planning any surprise demonstrations to disrupt the PSC process. We’ve never done that in the past eight years that we’ve fought Keystone, and we would never jeopardize our own legal process anyway, since we feel like we have a very strong foundation to stand on as were entering into those proceedings so we don’t want to disrupt that legal process,” Kleeb said.

Bliemeister says the hearings held by the Public Service Commission in Nebraska so far have been peaceful, and he expects that to continue. But he admits to concern people from outside the state may have different ideas.

“We do have concerns anytime there is a polarizing topic. Unfortunately, we see example after example in the national media of the propensity for tragedy to occur. But that’s not Lincoln, Nebraska. And I think Lincoln’s different. And I think we’re going to showcase that” Bliemeister said.

That showcase will be on display beginning with the march on Sunday, August 6, and continuing with the hearings throughout that week, with the possibility they could go longer if necessary.

Editor's note: NET News is planning extensive coverage leading up to and during the Public Service Commission hearing in August. Listen for that starting later this month on NET Radio and online at netNebraska.org/news.  Also be sure to follow “NET News Nebraska” on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

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