EMINENT DOMAIN BILL HEARING DRAWS BIG CROWD

Posted 2 years ago

By John Axtell

Capitol-1    Farmers and ranchers from across Nebraska braved snow-packed roads and interstate closings to testify Wednesday before the Unicameral’s Judiciary Committee on a bill to tighten the state’s eminent domain laws.

Most of the packed audience and witnesses supported the bill as a way to protect unwilling landowners from having their land taken for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Repeated stories were heard about strong-arm and scare tactics by pipeline developer TransCanada over the past couple years to get landowners to sign easements for the pipeline…even though the company still doesn’t have the state and federal permits needed for the project.

The bill being discussed…LB-152…requires those permits to be approved before any company could start or even threaten to start eminent domain proceedings. It also allows landowners to sue for damages and attorney fees if companies violate that or other restrictions.

Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said he’s never seen such an outpouring of concern from farmers in his 22 years as head of the group, calling it “appalling” the way landowners have been squeezed and coerced by TransCanada.

A lawyer for TransCanada testified againt the bill, saying the company works hard to have good landowner relations and that the bill would actually make the eminent domain process worse for everyone by compressing the time frame and the time available to educate landowners about the process and projects.

Representatives of cities, public utilities, railroads, and road contractors also testified against it…saying the bill would could increase their costs and delay projects. A BNSF Railway lobbyist said the railroad has used condemnation only once in 10 years in Nebraska.