Commission considering Keystone XL hears concerns over land values and whooping cranes

TransCanada attorney Patrick Pepper confers with Jennifer Baker representing the Yankton Sioux Tribe at the Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing on Keystone XL. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)
August 9, 2017 - 7:40pm

TransCanada questions claims that the Keystone XL oil pipeline would harm land values along the proposed route in Nebraska. Meanwhile, environmental groups argue electric lines built to power pump stations would threaten endangered whooping cranes.

A paper written for landowners opposing the Keystone XL pipeline estimates that property along its path would see a decrease in value, by about 15 percent. If land along the route were up for sale, the presence of the pipeline could turn off some buyers, says Michael O’Hara, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“If there is a pipeline, when you go to sell the land, the mere existence of the pipeline requires an environmental assessment prior to sale,” O’Hara says. “That’s not ordinary on real estate that’s (farmland).”

TransCanada pushed back on O’Hara’s findings. Attorney Patrick Pepper pointed to the conclusions made in the U.S. State Department's assessment of the pipeline project, which he says concludes that the operation of the pipeline is not expected to have an impact on property values.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission will decide whether to approve the route of Keystone XL based on whether it is in the public interest. The impact on land values and property taxes could be part of that decision.

Commissioners also heard testimony from environmental groups opposing Keystone XL and the risk they say the pipeline could pose to endangered whooping cranes, which migrate through Nebraska.

Electric transmission lines are considered a particular risk to the birds.

“They’re a danger to cranes, especially, because cranes feed in fields or wetlands and then they fly to the next one, usually at a height of 30 to 40 feet,” says Paul Johnsgard, a biologist known for his study of Nebraska birds and natural history. “Flying into, colliding with, an overhead line is the major cause of mortality in whooping cranes.”

On cross-examination by TransCanada, however, Johnsgard admitted that the additional risk represented by new powerlines that would be built for Keystone XL pumping stations was relatively small.

The Public Service Commission hearing was scheduled to run at least through Friday, but is ahead of schedule. All groups have presented their primary witnesses. They will continue presenting rebuttal witnesses on Thursday. If that testimony is finished, the hearing could end early.



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