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Keystone to get go-ahead next week

BISMARCK -- The controversial TransCanada Keystone Pipeline should get its North Dakota go-ahead on Thursday.

The Public Service Commission set a special meeting for 2 p.m. Thursday to vote on an order permitting the crude oil pipeline to be built through eastern North Dakota. The 218-mile North Dakota section will enter the state near Walhalla and exit near Cogswell, transporting crude oil from northern Alberta to refineries in Illinois.

The company is "very pleased the commission has set a date to rule (and) we look forward to a positive ruling" on Thursday, said company spokesman Jeff Rauh. "We're anxious to get at it. We've got a lot of work to do."

The company originally hoped the North Dakota section of the route would be approved three months ago and recently said the delay has caused them to postpone work in the state that precedes actual construction. The company plans to actually begin digging trenches and laying the 30-inch pipe in late May to early June, Rauh said.

What TransCanada will actually get, once an order is approved, is a route permit and a certificate of corridor compatibility.

Janie Capp of Lankin said Thursday she's disappointed that the approval will likely be granted.

Capp and several other landowners in the state, in addition to the Dakota Resource Council, opposed the line and were formal parties to case. They said the line will endanger aquifers and the water in the Sheyenne River and Lake Ashtabula.

"They (PSC) didn't take into consideration any of our concerns, that's for sure," she said in a phone interview. "Our elected officials, including the Public Service Commission, are giving in for a few tax dollars. I just hope everybody remembers when the thing does leak...and our resources are destroyed or damaged, who voted for it to come in."

Commissioner Kevin Cramer emphasized that the order will include many safety and environmental conditions the company must comply with or meet before it can start construction. For instance, TransCanada must submit an emergency response plan that the PSC considers acceptable before the pipe can be put in, he said.

"Obviously we took into consideration all sides," he said, but the commission is obligated to decide the case based on the official record that was collected during formal hearings.

He said that is why the draft order that commissioners are reviewing is 35 pages long, with a three-page addendum spelling out required tree-and-shrub mitigation procedures.

"I don't expect Janie Capp or anyone else to be 100 percent satisfied. I don't expect the company to be 100 percent satisfied," Cramer said. "I appreciate her concern and her input as well as all the other interveners."

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