Nebraska Residents Allege TransCanada Lobbying County Planning Commission Over Pipeline Regulations In Closed Meeting

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TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. (Photo courtesy of CBC News.)

Citizens of York County, Nebraska, including Shannon and Kevin Graves, among others, are growing concerned over the unusual protocol and timing of meetings between the county planning commission and gas and oil pig TransCanada. Apparently, the Tar Sands pusher has been participating in what should be closed meetings of a county planning zone subcommittee. The unusual exception to the closed meetings comes at a time when York County finds itself in the middle of a year-long update of the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations — a process that recurs every ten years. This decade’s meeting will no doubt focus heavily on redrawing the zoning regulations around gas and oil pipelines — a much heated subject in Nebraska, sparking protests and acts of civil disobedience across the state, with solidarity expressed internationally to those standing up for water and treaty rights. Some folks have even pledged to fight to the death to prohibit Tar Sands pipelines from crossing their territories. Though whatever regulations set in place will not relate to the Keystone XL pipeline directly, there is little doubt that the KXL helped prompt the regulations. Informed citizens requested county commissioners put stronger regulations in place to help protect landowners from liabilities concerning the KXL and any other pipelines that may try to sprout up in the future. As a result, the planning commission put together a subcommittee specific to zoning regulations for pipelines. The plan for the subcommittee was to educate themselves about the numerous details pipelines involve outside a public forum, then they were to bring their findings and proposed regulations to the planning commission in a public meeting. From there the regulations would head to the county board for another public meeting.

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(Photo courtesy of Flickr.)

But TransCanada has been participating in the closed, nonpublic “education” portions of the process. Perhaps the subcommittee views bringing TransCanada in privately to be part of their “educating themselves?” Of course, that would only be a possible valid reason if the subcommittee also brought in oppositional voices, from experts to community members, to “educate” the subcommittee, as well. Kevin Graves told York County commissioners last week:

I have serious concerns about the zoning process. The zoning board and Orval Stahr (who is the contracted consultant for the updating process) have been developing regulations. Now, it’s come to my attention that TransCanada representatives have been inserting themselves into that process. They are doing their best to see there are no regulations pertaining to these types of pipelines.

Graves continued:

Bill [Commissioner Bamesberger], you told us last fall you were sick of people from outside this county trying to micromanage the county board and the planning commission. Well, we are, too. And here we have a foreign company trying to do just that, with TransCanada. The county can function on its own in this process and TransCanada should not have to insert themselves. It is ridiculous to let them have a hand in formulating the zoning regulations for pipelines. Today, we are asking for the board to put an end to the manipulation of the process. We see no reason whatsoever for TransCanada to be involved — I’m sure Orval has one of them at the breakfast table every morning. We don’t need these out-of-county people micromanaging us.

Then Graves went even further by alleging:

I know that they shared some things with Orval — they have been working to convince him on a number of issues.

Graves claims some of those “issues” are regarding regulations for top soil replacement after installation of pipelines, as well as depth rules for pipelines as they relate to irrigation systems. Graves said:

TransCanada is doing its best to see that this can’t happen.

Then a quick back and forth developed between the Graves’ and the commissioners at the County Commission meeting. Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin said in response to Graves:

I guess I’m not aware of what you are referring to. How exactly are they doing this?

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Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin’s ironic, current Facebook profile picture.

This is a typical commissioner response. Anyone who’s ever attended commission meetings for any length of time knows this type of response is a simple side-stepping, playing dumb to avoid serious civil dialogue and engagement. It’s meant to pacify the public — make them feel like they are participating, having an effect, and getting some “answers,” if only that perhaps their concerns are needlessly kneejerky and shamefully judgmental of the commissioners’ saintly intentions. Leave it to them; you’re too uninformed, inflammatory and emotional. Let the adults handle it, is the subtle (or not so subtle) communication there. Commissioner Bamesberger one-upped Commissioner Bulgrin by adding:

I was unaware as well there were any issues. Yes, they can come to the public meetings as all people can. I would hope that the planning commission members can think for themselves and not be biased one way or the other. We do have a new zoning administrator and Orval is only a consultant.

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Orval Stahr. (Photo courtesy of Facebook.)

Graves then responded to Commissioner Bamesberger:

Orval had been standing behind his extensive research, for a long time, and now he’s caving on it. It’s a concern to us.

Bamesberger responded:

I think Orval is trying to be fair to both sides, I hope.

Commissioner Jack Sikes jumped in then, still playing dumb but on an obvious power trip:

I’m not positive I know exactly what you are talking about here, but when it comes to the end, it’s up to this board. Rest assured, you will get my vote on how I feel about it at the time.

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York County commissioner Jack Sikes. (Photo courtesy of Facebook.)

Surely if Sikes stood with the people he could have easily voiced so right then and there. It’s only when they are against the will of the people that they talk like that and kick the can down the road to avoid all the argumentative dialogue in between. Sadly, little Hitlers and their tiny fascisms can be found sprinkled all throughout America, sidestepping discussion and representation for the old “father knows best” approach, and you aren’t supposed to ask daddy any questions. What’s that old “rule” — children should be seen but not heard? Commissioner Paul Buller had the courage to say, however:

I do think there’s some lobbying going on.

Commissioner Sikes then responded, making his position murkier than the above assessment suggests, no doubt leaving the public in a very uneasy place — not knowing which direction he is facing behind mum lips:

That’s the downfall of government. It goes on all the time, at all levels of government.

Shannon Graves spoke up then, offering:

I want to remind the commissioners that LB 1161 was declared null and void — so TransCanada does not have a route in Nebraska, so there is no reason we should do business with someone that has no business in the state. I just ask that you keep that in mind.

Commissioner Bamesberger responded to Ms. Graves:

As far as pipeline regulations, much of this is pre-empted by stated and federal law.

Ms. Graves then stated:

That is correct, but there are protections the county can give us, and this is about every pipeline company, not just TransCanada.

First published by Take 10.

H/T York News Times.