LINCOLN — Jeanne Crumly said she got a “gut punch” Friday morning — notification that she was being formally sued to obtain right of way across her Holt County farm for the Keystone XL pipeline.

She pledged to fight the eminent domain action.

Court records indicate that TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, has filed at least 90 lawsuits since Sept. 20 asking courts across Nebraska to assign appraisers to determine the cost of obtaining right of way for the 36-inch crude oil pipeline. It is the first step in obtaining right of way via eminent domain, the legal process that allows the taking of property for public purposes, and a first step toward allowing construction.

A ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court last month approved a route across Nebraska and cleared the way to begin the eminent domain process, according to TC Energy spokeswoman Robynn Tysver. The $8 billion pipeline will carry thick crude oil produced from the tar sands region of Canada across three states — Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska — before linking up with an existing pipeline that transports oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“TC Energy worked hard to try to reach mutual agreements with landowners in all three states,” Tysver said. “TC Energy offered at least fair-market value, along with a generous compensation package that included a signing bonus.”

She said that in Montana and South Dakota, 99% of the landowners agreed to right of way agreements to allow TC Energy to build, operate and maintain the pipeline, which will be buried 4 feet deep.

The company did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for the percentage of Nebraska landowners who signed voluntary agreements.

Brian Jorde, an Omaha attorney who represents Crumly and several other landowners, said the condemnation filings were no surprise. He pointed out that a request to the Supreme Court to reconsider its recent ruling is still pending, and added that condemnation will be fought and that “other legal actions” will be considered.

Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, the leading group opposing the pipeline, said Friday that some “next steps” in the legal battle will be announced soon, and that there’s “no political way that this pipeline will ever be built.”

“Every major Democratic candidate is against the pipeline and would reverse (President Donald) Trump’s abuse of power,” said Kleeb, who chairs the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Trump, earlier this year, issued a new presidential permit for the Keystone XL, thus sidestepping lawsuits that had challenged a previous federal OK for the project. The new permit is being challenged in federal court in Montana by landowners, environmental groups and Native American tribes that oppose the Keystone XL.

Tysver, the TC Energy spokeswoman, said that now is the first time the pipeline has had a green light in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, and, because of that, preconstruction activity has begun.

Kleeb said she’s heard that the pipeline is seeking to reroute its path to avoid the land of a major opponent of the project, Art Tanderup of Neligh, who hosted a benefit concert featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young in 2014, and avoid any formal consultation with the Ponca Tribe over crossing its ancestral home in northeast Nebraska.

The condemnation lawsuits were filed in several counties, including Antelope, Madison, Seward, Colfax and Jefferson Counties.

Court records indicate that Crumly and her family turned down a $77,090 offer from TC Energy for right of way across their farm. The offer included a $30,000 “construction completion bonus” for the Crumly family’s cooperation if “additional work space” was needed in constructing the pipeline.

Crumly said the offer “doesn’t look like a bargain” if you consider that over the 50-year lifespan of the pipeline there are bound to be problems, including the potential of leaks, and that there will be a loss of income and value of the property. She’s also concerned that the project will disrupt $100,000 of drainage tile work done on the land.

“We can look out our front door and see where this disruption would occur,” she said.

The Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed more than a decade ago. Proponents say it will increase America’s energy security, help a friendly ally, and provide oil to refineries in the United States that are set up to refine the thick, Canadian crude. Opponents say that the tar sands oil is harmful to the environment and its production will speed climate change. They maintain that the Canadian oil isn’t needed anymore since U.S. oil production has boomed because of fracking.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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