"I don't want their money" was Jim Tarnick's response when TransCanada sent a $77,000 contract to his home. The Canadian oil giant has been sending these types of contracts to Nebraska landowners for years. The more landowners refuse to sign, the more money TransCanada offers. The first time TransCanada approached Jim, they were offering $600.
$77k is just about double the average annual income for a family in Nance County where Jim lives, and yet "I don't want their money" was still his answer. That's how important this issue is to Nebraska landowners.
Signing a contract would mean that TransCanada has the authority to lay pipeline on their land, once the pipeline is officially approved. Nebraska is the only state in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline where landowners are still holding out and not signing these agreements.
"Keystone" has become somewhat of a political buzzword that incites hope of jobs and economic growth on one side of the debate and concerns over environmental contamination on the other. To people like Jim Tarnick and the other TransCanada holdouts, the Keystone XL pipeline is much more than just a political debate. It's something that could end up in his backyard.
Once a landowner signs a TransCanada contract, they're giving their approval to have a pipe buried four feet down on their property. A pipe that is part of over 1,000 miles of pipeline transporting as much as 830,000 barrels of crude oil every day from Canada to Nebraska and onto refineries on the Gulf Coast.
For people like Jim Tarnick and the other 114 Nebraska holdouts, it's not about the money. One of the biggest concerns Nebraska landowners have is over the extent of TransCanada's control. The language in the easement agreements allow for TransCanada to retain pipeline rights on the landowners' property long after Keystone XL goes out of commission.
Another area of concern is "acts of God" which the contract would probably leave to the responsibility of the landowner, rather than TransCanada. Say, for example, that a tornado swept through Nebraska and damaged part of the pipeline, causing severe property damage. TransCanada might fix their pipeline, but any resulting property damage would fall to the landowners.
The large amounts of money TransCanada is using to sweeten the pot for landowners might not even be that much when you factor in the production losses that the pipeline could cause. Some farmers and landowners believe the pipeline could adversely affect their crop yields, resulting in thousands of dollars in losses.
Jim Tarnick is a member of the Nebraska Easement Action Team (NEAT), a group that is represented by Domina Law Group. NEAT is comprised of Nebraska landowner holdouts who are refusing to sign TransCanada's contracts until the government makes a final ruling on the pipeline.
"But isn't it difficult to hold out against the allure of the almighty dollar?" a reporter asked Jim.
In response, Jim said "It ain't about the money. I don't want to sign a lease to these guys, ever. Unless they force it on me, I won't. It's as simple as that."