Liberty Co. resident battles over proposed Keystone Pipeline land grab

February 24, 2012 5:20:03 PM PST
One Liberty County resident is crying foul over what he calls bad business in the name of a pipeline that may never be built.

The proposed Keystone Pipeline XL would carry oil from Canada to refineries here in Houston and Port Arthur. And while its future right now is uncertain, oil companies aren't waiting for politicians to battle it out

All this may seem a little premature since the president said Keystone can't build this pipeline. But over the last several years, the Canadian company behind it has been buying land all over the state and what they can't buy, they're taking -- and it's all legal.

This is the spot where controversy meets the country just off State Highway 326 in Liberty County.

From Canada, it's a speck on a map underneath a line drawn to plot a pipeline. But to Raymond Hill, it's far more.

Hill owns 135 acres of this east Texas land; his family's had it more than 100 years.

"You can't see the boundaries and you can't feel the presence of neighbors," Hill said.

And while he'll get to keep most of it, the Canadian company behind the controversial Keystone pipeline wants three acres of it. They came to Hill two years ago and still can't make a deal.

When we asked Hill why he's standing in their way, he replied, "I don't think I am. I've been willing to make a deal with a reasonable person, they just haven't shown me that person yet."

So the pipeline company took it and the county set a price -- all before Hill said yes, just as Texas law allows.

Once pipeline companies pick their route through Texas they have to buy rights to use the land. But if they can't reach a deal, Texas law allows pipeline companies to seize it using eminent domain. It isn't the government doing it -- they don't even need government permission -- it's a private company seizing someone else's private land to make private profits.

"It wasn't anytime at all before people started asking who are these SOBs? They come in like they own the place," Hill said.

Hill isn't alone. Transcanada, which is already working in other parts of the country, says it's made deals with landowners for 99 percent of the Texas land it needs, but is still in court over eminent domain seizures with about two dozen Texas landowners. And while there's plenty of controversy over the pipeline, that's not Hill's problem.

He likes Big Oil. His father was once president of the Houston Oil and Houston Pipeline companies. He just thinks business was done better back then when deals were made outside of court.

"Maybe arrogance is catching -- like the flu or something like that," Hill said. "This is not something I want to do. I am 86 years old. My time is getting scarce."

The group 'We Texans' has scoured county courthouses across Texas and found at least 89 eminent domain cases. In our area, there are, or were, 13 in Jefferson County, five in Liberty County, and six in Polk County -- all in various stages. A recent state Supreme Court case may limit pipeline companies' ability to do this in the future.