YORK, Neb. — The York County Board on Tuesday refused to join an effort to oppose the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
County Board members defeated a symbolic resolution expressing concern about the safety of the 36-inch, high-pressure pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Three of the five County Board members voted against the measure.
Later, though, the board asked its zoning administrator to look into possible zoning changes to address pipeline safety.
County Board Chairman Curt Bulgrin said he voted against the resolution opposing the Keystone XL and “any pipelines of this nature” because of concerns about possible lawsuits and because it would have no bearing on whether the pipeline were built.
Federal officials will decide the fate of the Keystone XL, he said. “I don’t think they’re going to pay attention to a bunch of a counties in Nebraska.”
About 60 opponents of the pipeline, some wearing “Pipeline Fighter” T-shirts, filled the meeting room to overflowing. They expressed dismay at the board’s rejection of the resolution.
They said the resolution would not have inspired lawsuits, but would have sent a powerful message to Washington and Nebraska’s congressional delegation about their concerns about pipeline leaks that could foul groundwater or harm livestock.
“Our county is about water, fertile land and growing crops,” said Jenni Harrington, who urged passage of the resolution, drafted by a York County group called “The Good Life Alliance.”
Pipeline opponents have in recent months urged the 12 Nebraska counties crossed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to pass zoning restrictions or resolutions opposing it.
In April, the Holt County Board adopted a resolution against the project and passed special zoning laws concerning pipelines. A similar opposition resolution, though, failed in another county, Boyd County.
Bonnie Kruse, who owns land near Seward, Neb., told York County Board members that Seward successfully negotiated additional safety measures with pipeline operator TransCanada five years ago over its smaller Keystone pipeline, which crosses that city’s municipal wellfield. The company also agreed to donate $50,000 to community betterment projects.
“There are many things you can do,” Kruse told York County officials.
Jeff Rauh, a representative of TransCanada, said that he was pleased by York County’s rejection of the anti-pipeline resolution but emphasized that the company’s goal is to work with local communities to address concerns.
Bulgrin said the York County Attorney’s Office had recommended rejection of the pipeline resolution because it could violate the federal interstate commerce clause. He added that constituents in his eastern York County district didn’t oppose the pipeline.
Besides Bulgrin, County Board members Bill Bamesberger and Jack Sikes voted “no” on the anti-pipeline resolution. Commissioners Paul Buller and Tom Shellington voted “yes.”
Approval of the 1,700-mile pipeline is in the hands of the U.S. State Department because it crosses an international border. A decision by the department is expected later this year.