Barn goes up in pipeline's path

2013-09-22T19:30:00Z 2013-09-23T00:29:31Z Barn goes up in pipeline's pathBy ART HOVEY / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

BRADSHAW -- It was a windy day  Sunday for an outdoor event, but Terri Harrington wasn’t complaining.

“I think God is trying to tell us to do something with the wind,” Harrington said as she celebrated the completion of a barn-raising on her land 65 miles west of Lincoln that features both wind and solar energy generation.

Another attraction of the new barn, as she sees it, is that it’s directly in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Later Sunday afternoon, as the wind-generating equipment spun at blurring speed, a crowd of perhaps 200 anti-pipeline activists was delighted to see what the wind blew in.

California billionaire Tom Steyer, a sustainable energy proponent and one of the nation’s high-profile opponents of the Keystone XL, stepped to the microphone in front of the barn to voice his enthusiastic support for wind and solar power and their shared dislike for the pipeline.

“I think what you’re doing is showing the entire nation that you have the right values and that you’re willing to stand up for them under pressure,” Steyer said to those seated on long rows of straw bales.

It wasn’t easy to pick out the man who’s also a major donor to the Democratic Party, because he arrived in blue jeans, an open-necked shirt and sneakers.

But Jane Kleeb, leader of Bold Nebraska and one of the organizers for the culmination of a barn-raising project that began northwest of York and a few miles west of Benedict in August, was quick to confirm this was the same guy who hosted President Barack Obama recently at a fundraiser at his house overlooking the Golden Gate bridge.

And it was the same guy, Kleeb said, who told the president to deny the permit pipeline builder TransCanada needs to connect  Canadian oil sands with ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Steyer, a graduate of the Stanford Business School and a hugely successful Wall Street investor, said his investment career was behind him now and what’s ahead is a full-time commitment to what he sees as the right social and political cause.

“Now 100 percent of my time is pushing on energy and climate,” he said.

Borrowing from the teachings of Gandhi, he praised his anti-Keystone XL audience as “the best example I’ve ever seen of people being the change they want to see in the world.”

TransCanada has yet to see the change it wants -- an end to years of federal scrutiny and a presidential permit that will allow construction of the Keystone XL across the Canadian border and through Nebraska.

The latest timetable suggests the president won’t announce his decision until next year.

In a brief question and answer session with reporters, Steyer said the 36-inch-diameter pipeline looked like a done deal earlier, “and now it’s very far from a done deal.”

TransCanada recently circulated what its leadership described as a fact check on Steyer’s descriptions of why the pipeline should be denied.

Among the company’s denial points was that oil sent through the pipeline would be meant mostly for export, rather than for the U.S. market.

According to a prepared statement from spokesman Shawn Howard, “it makes absolutely no sense for companies to purchase cheaper Canadian and U.S. crudes, ship those products overseas and then continue to import higher priced oil from the Middle East and Venezuela.”

Earlier Sunday, Terri Harrington, a Denver attorney who grew up near the barn site she now owns, acknowledged  the $80,000 structure could be in a precarious spot if a pipeline construction permit were granted.

She sees that scenario as a long shot. “This is where Keystone thinks they’re going to try to put this pipeline,” she said, “but President Obama will not grant the permit to let them do that.”

As many as 100 volunteers worked on the barn, which sports  post-and-beam construction and a red steel roof under its solar panels, over two weekends in September.

On Sunday, the crew was putting on the finishing touches, including securing the panels, as they awaited the program celebrating completion.

Susie Wilkins of Geneva, who moved back  from California a year ago, said she was not prepared to see the barn shoved aside. “I’ll be standing in front of the bulldozer if I’m still around,” Wilkins said.

A look around the property showed that recent activity there wasn’t all about hammering and sawing.

Long rows of hand-painted signs awaited posting, including one that said “we’re not in the mood for crude” and another that said “oil spills are 100 percent preventable.”

Doug Grandt, another former Californian who moved to Nebraska to work against the pipeline -- “I’m now a Bold Nebraskan” -- said Steyer was not in his social circle on the West Coast.

“I don’t know him,” Grandt deadpanned, “but we need more billionaire philanthropists.”

Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or  ahovey@journalstar.com.

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