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Texarkana appeals court affirms Harris' ruling in Lamar County pipeline dispute

TEXARKANA, Texas – The three-judge 6th State Court of Appeals out of Texarkana today affirmed the ruling of Lamar County Court of Law Judge Bill Harris in the bid by Julia Trigg Crawford to keep the Keystone XL pipeline from crossing her property in northwest Lamar County.

Lamar County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris
Lamar County Court at Law Judge Bill Harris

At issue was Harris’ 15-word decision in August of last year giving TransCanada Corp. the right to lay a pipeline across her Red’Arc Farm – bounded on the north by the Red River and on the west by the Bois d’Arc Creek — 20 miles northwest of Paris.

“Insomuch as this matter remains in litigation, I have no official comment other than to say I am pleased with the Court of Appeals opinion,” Harris said.

The appellate court’s decision came one year after Harris’ ruling in TransCanada’s favor at the Lamar County Courthouse in Paris.

Crawford appealed, and Chief Justice Josh R. Morriss III, Justice Bailey C. Moseley, and Justice Jack Carter heard arguments on July 30 at the Hunt County Auxiliary Courtroom in Greenville.

Crawford, through her attorney, Wendi Hammond, had argued that TransCanada “lacks eminent domain authority for this interstate pipeline and therefore should not have been able to take our land from us.”

The proceeding in Greenville went quickly. Hammond had 20 minutes to make her case, TransCanada got 20 minutes to counter, and Hammond had 10 minutes of follow-up rebuttal.

Following that hearing, TransCanada attorney James Freeman said the appellate court’s ruling would probably come “in two to three months.”

It took less than a month.

Crawford’s attorney argued that Keystone as an interstate pipeline does not have the power of eminent domain under the Texas Capital Resources Code.

“It was rightly found that way by Judge Harris in Paris. Every court that has heard it has found in our favor,” Freeman said after the Greenville hearing.

TransCanada “chose not to wait on this appeal, and has been aggressively constructing this pipeline across our farm since May,” Crawford complained in late July.

“They are now in their final construction stage, working 24 hours a day on their long horizontal drill under our creek, and plan to complete this portion by mid-August,” she said.

The Keystone Pipeline system owned by TransCanada as projected contemplates the installation and operation of a network of more than 2,100 miles of pipeline for the transmission of crude petroleum that originates in Canada, transversing markets within the Midwest United States to Cushing, Okla.

The crude petroleum that is gathered at Cushing enters a portion of the Keystone Pipeline System known as the Gulf Coast Project, which actually crosses over into Texas at the Red River less than a mile from the Crawford farm.

Its ultimate destination is in the Port Arthur area.

On April 19, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge of the Beaumont appeals court by Rhinoceros Ventures Group Inc., whose property lies near the industry refinery hub at Beaumont. The court denied the petition without comment.

The landowners had urged the high court to use its 2011 ruling in another pipeline case to withhold condemnation powers from interstate pipelines that bring out-of-state crude into Texas.

In a March 27 filing, the company argued that interpretation could shut down interstate pipelines and “sever the arteries that fuel the very heart of the Texas Gulf Coast refining complex.”

The crude petroleum transported on TransCanada lines is owned by third parties that are unrelated to Keystone, TransCanada lawyers have argued.

“We are delivering the crude to refineries in the Port Arthur area that are also owned by third parties unaffiliated with Keystone,” Freeman said.

On Aug. 10, 2012, in the hearing before Judge Harris, Crawford’s lawyer argued that TransCanada doesn’t have the right to use eminent domain because there won’t be any access points for anyone to tie onto the pipeline within Texas.

“Think of it as a toll road. Anyone can get on that toll road,” Hammond argued. “This can’t be done. The only way oil will go in is in Oklahoma, and the only exit is at a refinery to be shipped out elsewhere.”

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

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