Arkansas residents discover they can't stop pipeline from crossing their land 

Photographer's project to put 'human face' on impact of planned Valero/Plains All American Pipeline project

click to enlarge Clara Dotson and Gordon Millsaps image
  • Alison Millsaps
  • Clara Dotson and Gordon Millsaps on Dotson's land, north of Dover.

Alison Millsaps, an artist who lives in Dover with her husband, Gordon, and their three children, is shooting photographs to "put a human face on people who are not on board" with the Diamond Pipeline, a Valero/Plains All American Pipeline project planned to bisect Arkansas, cutting across their land.

One of those people is her mother-in-law, Clara Dotson, who has owned 80 acres eight miles north of Dover since the mid-1970s. Dotson, whose husband died in 1996, paid off the land by working in a factory. Though she lives in town, she has hung on to the land so she can pass it to her son and daughter-in-law, who have already picked out a spot where they want to build and farm.

The Diamond Pipeline project, which would transport Bakken Shale crude from Cushing, Okla., to Memphis, Tenn., where Valero has a refinery, came to light when the pipeline company asked the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to survey property northeast of Little Rock that the commission manages for wildlife. Diamond Project LLC has not divulged the exact route of the pipeline, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is a privileged document and won't release it to the public. However, a rough map provided by Game and Fish shows the route bisecting the state north of Little Rock, and a brochure says construction is to start next year.

When the company contacted Dotson and asked to come on her property, which is being used as a cattle ranch, to survey it, "She essentially told them no," Alison Millsaps said. "It got kind of ugly. They told her either you let us on or we'll get a court order and come on."

On Feb. 20, Diamond Project did get a court order, for a temporary condemnation, and were given 90 days to complete surveys and soil tests. Pink flags now cross Dotson's land, "smack through the middle of her pasture," Alison Millsaps said. There's a pink flag tied to a branch over a cattle pond as well. Theoretically, Diamond is to reimburse Dotson $300 for any damage incurred in coming on the property, but Millsaps said she's not sure how they would get the money, which is being held by the court.

Landowners who did not know before are learning that Arkansas law gives oil pipelines the right of eminent domain. Diamond Project LLC will have to get permits to cross rivers, streams and wet areas from the Corps, and must file other requests with the Public Service Commission and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality relating to river crossings, but the state can only regulate construction, not direct the route. The pipeline crosses three Corps districts; the Little Rock district will take the lead in the permitting process. Game and Fish and other interested parties are joining to ask the Corps to require individual permits for each waterway rather than a blanket nationwide permit. Individual permits would allow the public to comment on the impact of the pipeline on wildlife management areas, including the Rex Hancock Black Swamp Wildlife Management Area, Steve Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA and the Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA. (Because it is a federal reserve, the Cache River National Wildlife Area was able to, and did, refuse Diamond access to the land.)

Millsaps' picture of her husband and mother-in-law accompany this article. She said others who are unhappy about the company's right of eminent domain may contact her on her Facebook page, True Price Per Acre.

George Hoelzeman, who does liturgical art and design and lives on 120 acres in north Conway County, was also sued by Diamond Project after he refused to let them survey, since he believed that would give them permission to dig. "Worse than that, they sent a survey team two days after delivering the lawsuit papers," he said.

Hoelzeman said he was told by surveyors that Diamond was looking at a "pretty wide area where they were thinking of running this line. ... I found out they weren't surveying a broad swath but a very narrow [route] ... and I had no choice in the matter. I found out from the [state] Oil and Gas Commission that they can do what they damn well please." Hoelzeman characterized the attitude by the state commission toward him as "belligerent."

"The reality of where I'm at is if I fight 'em, the best thing that's going to happen is they move it [the pipeline] to adjacent property, which doesn't help anybody. It still ruins our land and I don't get any money for it." His land was surveyed in late February. Hoelzeman said the surveyor asked him what his objections were to the pipeline. Hoelzeman said he could tell him in one word: Mayflower. "He said, 'OK.' "

It was Hoelzeman's second dealing with a gas company. There is fracking to the north of his property. He said his dealings with Southwest Energy were far more cordial, though surveyors were coy about why they were interested in leasing Hoelzeman's mineral rights. He said he got good advice from a cousin, who said, "George, you've got to remember, when you are dealing with oil and gas companies, they do not have your best interests at heart."

Millsaps said she's discovering that people near her have varying opinions on the pipeline. One woman said they'd never come through because the land is too rocky.

Others are interested in money. One man bought land for his family because he's been diagnosed with leukemia and wanted to leave land to his family; now it's being surveyed for the pipeline.

Millsaps has asked to meet with her state representative, David Branscum, R-Marshall, who serves on the Joint Energy Committee. State Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, told the Times he was studying the issue.

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