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Monday, December 18, 2017

Keystone could bring dollars, protestors to Dawson County

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Keystone XL pipeline is back in play, and with construction of it now seemingly closer than ever, Dawson County stands to benefit economically, but at the same time could become a focal point for protestors opposed to the controversial project.

Just days after taking office in late January, President Donald Trump issued an executive order encouraging TransCanada, the company behind the project, to resubmit their application for it. Former President Barrack Obama had rejected the Keystone application in November 2015 after dragging out multiple environmental reviews of the project throughout the length of his eight-year presidency.

TransCanada did not hesitate to resubmit their application after Trump’s order, submitting their request for a Presidential Permit from the U.S. State Department on Jan. 26, just two days after Trump issued his executive order.

Dawson County Commissioner Doug Buxbaum said TansCanada has been good about keeping local officials in the loop about the project, noting he received a call from them immediately after Trump issued his order to inform the commissioners the company intended to move forward.

“There’s been good contact with Keystone,” Buxbaum said.

The county commissioners are among those who would welcome the Keystone project with open arms. The pipeline will cut across southwestern Dawson County on its way from Canada down to the Gulf Coast refineries. With legislators in Helena currently embroiled in battle over how to spend shrinking state revenues, Buxbaum said the Keystone project is even more attractive today as an additional source of revenue for local governments.

“Definitely,” Buxbaum responded when asked if the Keystone project would mean even more economically to the county now than it did during the height of the Bakken oil boom. “With the situation they’re dealing with the budget issues up (in Helena), why wouldn’t we welcome something that provides increased revenue?”

Just how much revenue Keystone might generate for local government entities — three stand to directly benefit from increased property taxes, the county, the Dawson County High School district and Dawson Community College — is an open question.

According to a 2011 study commissioned by TransCanada, it is estimated that during construction, new spending is anticipated to pour $421 million into Montana’s economy and increase state and local tax revenues by about $8.9 million annually.

But those estimates are from 2011, so the real impact is anybody’s guess, Buxbaum thinks.

“We really couldn’t nail it down as to exactly what we could get, and I don’t know that they will get it nailed down until it’s in place,” he said.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha also could not provide estimates for increased property tax revenues specifically for Dawson County, but he did provide a general, updated estimate for what Keystone would mean economically for all the counties along its route.

“The total estimated property tax from the proposed project in the first full year of operations would be about $55.6 million spread across 27 counties in three states,” Cunha said. “Additionally, sales and use taxes revenue from the construction of the proposed project would be approximately $66 million.  These revenues could help to ease the tax burden on ordinary Americans.”

Besides increased tax revenue, construction of Keystone in the region could provide an additional economic boon for Glendive and Dawson County as the thousands of workers the project would require descend on the area.

Before Obama seemingly killed the project in late 2015, TransCanada had contracts in place to build two work camps to house project workers near Glendive. One of the camps was set to open just outside Circle and the other just outside Baker, but Glendive would be the largest city with the most amenities closest to both. As originally planned, each camp would cover 80 acres and have 646 beds available, along with another 300 spaces for recreational vehicles, meaning each camp could house over 1,000 workers. TransCanada also had a contract in place with the city of Glendive to provide both camps with potable water. Construction of the pipeline would take about two years, Cunha noted.

However, Cunha also said he is currently unsure of the status of those contracts for the work camps and the water from Glendive.

Meanwhile, while the county commissioners and many locals support the Keystone project, others remain full-bore against it.

Immediately after Trump’s order, the Northern Plains Resource Council released a statement from member and McCone County rancher Darrelle Garoutte blasting the decision.

“The Northern Plains Resource Council believes the final Environmental Impact Statement that was originally done showed that the Keystone XL pipeline fell far short of demonstrating that it would be in the national interest,” Garoutte said.

Garoutte’s statement went on to list the basic mantra repeated by Keystone opponents — that all the oil from it would end up being exported, that property owners along the route were cajoled into signing easements for it, that it poses a risk of spills that could impact agriculture and vital waterways and that it would generally contribute to global climate change.

The fact that the Keystone would cross the Yellowstone River in Dawson County — and not far from where just two years ago, the Poplar Pipeline ruptured, dumping over 30,000 gallons of oil into the river — is not lost on local officials, who are keenly aware, especially in light of the ongoing pipeline protest in North Dakota, that the crossing could become a focal point for protesters opposed to the project.

In fact, Buxbaum said Dawson County Sheriff Ross Canen and Custer County Sheriff Tony Harbaugh have already begun dialogue between themselves and state officials on how to handle pipeline protests should they erupt in the area, and he believes they will be far better prepared for that possibility than North Dakota law enforcement officials were.

“If it happens, they’ll be prepared for it,” Buxbaum said. “It’s a wait and see thing, but it’s in their thoughts. And I believe they probably learned something from what’s happened to the east of us.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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