WASHINGTON — Skirmishes between opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and the company behind the project could be a preview of future tensions between construction crews and protesters in Nebraska.
The environmental advocacy group Bold Nebraska last week denounced a presentation TransCanada delivered previously to state law enforcement officials. Bold Nebraska obtained documents from the presentation through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them on its website.
“TransCanada is trying to paint concerned citizens as abusive, aggressive law breakers when in fact that describes themselves,” the group's executive director, Jane Kleeb, told The World-Herald. “They are giving presentations to the FBI and our local law enforcement making us out to be criminals and telling our local law enforcement they should be looking at terrorism laws as possible ways to prosecute us. There is something fundamentally wrong about this.”
A TransCanada spokesman defended the presentation, saying the company was simply providing desired information to law enforcement officials.
One page of the presentation was marked “Incident history — Nebraska” and cited protests by Bold Nebraska, as well as “opposition attendance” and “suspicious vehicles/photography” at the company's Omaha office.
It also referred to “Northern NE — aggressive abusive landowners” but also included the notation “level of capability and intent — low.”
The presentation detailed incidents in other locations where protesters not from Nebraska locked themselves onto heavy equipment, built tree houses in the path of the route, vandalized equipment or took other steps to block construction of the company's pipelines.
One page bears the heading “Federal/State Anti-terrorism statutes — attacking a critical infrastructure.”
The bullet points on the page indicate that law enforcement officials, including the FBI, could look at anti-terrorism laws as a way to stop certain acts by protesters, such as sabotaging equipment.
Bold Nebraska's opposition to the pipeline has included demonstrations, online videos and public forum comments.
Some of the group's members were arrested in acts of civil disobedience at the White House in an effort to send President Barack Obama a message that he should turn down TransCanada's permit application.
But Kleeb said all of the group's rallies, protests and other activities have been peaceful and lawful.
In a statement to The World-Herald, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said some opponents have used a variety of methods to slow approval or construction.
“Activists have targeted our projects and have repeatedly broken the law in different communities to make their point,” Howard said.
He said that the company was sharing information with law enforcement officials, not directing them, and that acts of intimidation by pipeline opponents are not isolated.
One of the company's surveyors was recently penned in on a county road in Nebraska by two vehicles, Howard said, and the local sheriff had to help get the individual out safely.
Kleeb said she was familiar with the incident, which happened in Holt County, where the County Board unanimously approved a symbolic anti-pipeline resolution this year.
She said that of the three vehicles TransCanada had in the Sand Hills, two were parked on the wrong side of the road.
A landowner told a TransCanada employee that he should leave because he didn't have permission to survey there and his cars were parked on the wrong side of the road.
The landowner as well as the TransCanada employees called the sheriff, who arrived and warned TransCanada employees about trespassing and parking on the wrong side of the road. After that, everyone left.
The Holt County Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the incident.
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