With the seven year long debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline
making international headlines, the Nebraska Sandhills have found themselves
an increasingly contentious topic of conversation. Even though the project was
rejected last year by President Obama, the National Natural Landmark continues to face down
potential development projects.
Earlier this year, plans for a $361 million transmission line project that
would cross the Sandhills region were started by surveyors from the Nebraska
Public Power District (NPPD). The NPPD is citing
Nebraska Revised Statute § 76-702 to justify entering private property in the proposed path of their project.
Domina Law Group pc llo, who worked with landowners and concerned groups
during their fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline, is
once again representing landowners fighting against the NPPD’s proposed project.
What makes the Nebraska Sandhills so important that the President of the
United States would reject a multi-billion dollar pipeline in order to
protect them, and what makes them so important that landowners would want
to fight against the NPPD’s proposed project?
Spanning nearly 33,000 acres, the Nebraska Sandhills are the largest sand
dunes complex in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike other large dunes around
the world, these are almost completely stabilized by vegetation, and are
also home to thousands of ponds and lakes, making the Sandhills the largest
and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the U.S.
Those thousands of ponds and lakes aren’t the only sources of water
present in the Nebraska Sandhills. One of the world’s largest aquifers,
the Ogallala Aquifer, is located beneath the Great Plains and is replenished
by many of those other water sources. The shallow water table aquifer
supplies drinking water to an estimated 82% of the 2.3 million people
living in the High Plains area according to a 1990 census, and also provides
around 30 percent of all ground water used for irrigation across the U.S.,
supporting an estimated $20 billion in agriculture.
The presence of the Ogallala Aquifer was a major issue cited in the Keystone
XL Pipeline debate. During an independent analysis conducted by Dr. John
Stansbury, a professor at the University of Nebraska, he estimated that
nearly two major spills could occur along the length of the pipeline every year.
In his report, Stansbury claimed that:
"The worst-case site for such a spill is in the Sandhills region of
Nebraska. The Sandhills are ancient sand dunes that have been stabilized
by grasses. Because of their very permeable geology, nearly 100 percent
of the annual rainfall infiltrates to a very shallow aquifer, often less
than 20 feet below the surface.”
If such a spill occurred, he estimated that 4.9 billion gallons of water
in the aquifer could be contaminated by crude oil. Such an event could
decimate the environment and economy of the entire region, and have a
significant impact on the U.S.’s economy as a whole as well.
Despite the massive reserves of water in the area, attempts at farming
in the late 1800s proved unsuccessful due to the fragility of the sandy
soil, and has led to minimal development of the area. Since then, some
cropland agriculture has been developed through the use of center-pivot
irrigation systems that utilize water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Even
with the increase in successful farms the Sandhills are also a successful
cattle ranching area that supports more than 530,000 beef cattle. Even
with the increased use of the Sandhills for agriculture and cattle ranching,
the biodiversity of the area has been preserved, and the majority of the
land has remained a habitat for over a thousand plant and animal species.
With the current fight over landowner’s rights against the NPPD’s
proposed transmission line project, the future of this National Natural
Landmark remains in question. Domina Law Group pc llo remains committed
to fighting for the rights of landowners. If you own land in the Nebraska
Sandhills that is in the proposed path of the NPPD’s project and
oppose its development,
contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys.