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PSC approves Keystone 'route refinements'

BISMARCK -- With Friday's approval of 55 "route refinements" for the TransCanada Keystone pipeline today, some of the last remaining landowners in its path who had not signed easements will likely now sign agreements, a public service commissioner said.

A Keystone spokesman also said the company has started clearing land in two counties in preparation for the line.

The TransCanada Keystone Pipeline will cut through eastern North Dakota from near Walhalla to near Cogswell, a 218-mile line that is part of a 30-inch diameter crude oil pipeline coming from Hardesty, Alberta, on its way to refineries in Illinois.

After the PSC approved the company's route in February, TransCanada returned to the commission this spring with a list of 49 proposed minor changes in the route, all of which are still in the approved corridor. That was later boosted to another five requests.

Most changes were because landowners requested them, such as to avoid a shelterbelt, to be routed along a section line instead of through the middle of a section.

The route refinements will also help the company with easements for some remaining parcels, because they should satisfy several remaining holdouts, commissioners said.

"Keystone has done an admirable job working with landowners who were not signers and working with them to avoid going to condemnation," Commissioner Tony Clark said.

Commissioner Kevin Cramer said after the meeting that may soon leave Richard Starke, who owns land near Valley City, as the lone holdout who hasn't signed an easement. Starke has vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In a 55th route refinement approved Friday, the company details about exactly how and where it will drill under the Sheyenne River near Fort Ransom. When the commission approved the line in February, it was with a condition that the Sheyenne crossing be described more specifically.

Keystone spokesman Jeff Rauh said, "We're pleased with the decision of the commission and happy to move forward."

He said earthmoving and land clearing has started at the heads of the two sections of the North Dakota route in Cavalier and Barnes County.

The public can now keep up with the construction progress on the Keystone Web site. Go to www.transcanada.com/keystone and scroll to the very bottom of the page.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.

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