|Photo: Faith Spotted Eagle (right) and members and supporters of Brave Heart Society and the Yankton Sioux Tribe inside a solar-equipped tiny house built to take on tour of proposed KXL “man camp” locations to raise awareness about MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). The tour has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus public health emergency. Photographer: Jen Cohen)|
By Mark Hefflinger
HASTINGS, Nebraska — Despite the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, which has compelled Tribal, federal, state, and local governments to impose “shelter-in-place,” travel restrictions, and cancel all manner of events to encourage social distancing, the Canadian pipeline corporation TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) continues against all good judgment to move forward with work on its Keystone XL pipeline project — further endangering the health of both thousands of out-of-state contract workers coming in to work on the pipeline, and the rural communities who will be exposed to them. Bold Nebraska has launched an online petition urging TC Energy to “Cancel KXL” activity — and calling on labor unions, Governors, Mayors and County Boards along the route to take action to halt all activity including construction on worker “man camps,” should TC continue to move forward in the face of the Coronavirus public health threat.
TC Energy plans to send hundreds of workers into rural communities to build a half dozen “man camps” across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska — temporary housing where hundreds or even thousands of pipeline workers would live together in close quarters throughout months of pipeline construction, in these same very small, very rural communities. Rural hospitals and Indian Health Service facilities along the proposed route are already ill-equipped to deal with the Coronavirus public health threat, and must not be exposed to this additional strain and threats from the influx of hundreds or thousands of out-of-state workers that would accompany the launch of an unnecessary construction project like the Keystone XL pipeline.
Over the past weeks, the cities of Boston, San Francisco and New York have instituted bans on construction projects; the first likely coronavirus infection was reported at an oilsands worker “man camp” in Alberta; construction on a Shell cracker plant with 8,000 employees was halted in Pennsylvania; and auto manufacturers and labor unions negotiated a shutdown of facilities.
In addition to threatening rural and Tribal communities with Keystone XL pipeline worker man camps, TC Energy is also needlessly endangering our rural counties’ elected officials, county commissioners, government employees, and concerned citizens — who must also still duly show up to county meetings to process, and oppose, TC Energy’s applications for various county-level construction permits, road haul agreements, and preparations to build these very “man camps” that will bring thousands of close-quartered outside workers into their communities for months during a public health crisis.
TC Energy has yet to issue a final investment decision on the Keystone XL project, and recently told investors that if it cannot “get comfort that the risk-reward proposition is attractive to us…the Keystone XL project will stay where it is.” The company has also not yet secured all the required local, state and federal permits to move forward with Keystone XL, nor has it acquired all necessary easements from the landowners in Nebraska, who have dug in to challenge eminent domain seizures of their land in court. In addition, permits for the project issued by the Trump administration are currently facing three federal lawsuits which embroils TC Energy in further litigation, impeding completion of the project.
PHOTOS: View and download photos of Faith Spotted Eagle and Brave Heart Society members with the solar-equipped “Standing Strong and Protecting” Tiny House. The tiny house was scheduled to tour communities along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route to raise awareness of the dangers of increased crime and sexual violence — especially targeting indigenous women — posed by worker man camps, before its postponement due to the coronavirus public health threat. (Media: photos for publication with attribution to photographer Jen Cohen.)
“For a company that runs countless ads in our communities on what good neighbors they are, this sure is a bad look for TC Energy,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska. “Our rural communities are strained as it is for medical supplies and hospital beds. TC energy must put an end to workers coming to our small towns as the pandemic grows across our country.”
“This causes eerie memories for us with the infected smallpox blankets that were distributed to tribes intentionally in the 1800’s,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, Brave Heart Society and Yankton Sioux Tribe. “It is absolutely similar, whereby we lost thousands of people in our tribes along the Missouri River where treaty water theft is occurring now. We shop in towns where these people will be located. We, as Indigenous people, populated these areas and continue to live in these towns, although we are constantly ignored by South Dakota state legislators. Now their towns will be endangered. We demand that TC Energy withdraw all construction which endangers our tribal health and neighbors personally and systemwide by bringing outsiders in from unions and who knows where. Do not dehumanize us with continued pipeline construction or mancamps or RVs. Stop now!”
“In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, TC Energy should immediately stop all preparation work on the Keystone XL pipeline at this time,” said Paul Seamans, member of Dakota Rural Action and landowner on the proposed Keystone XL route near Draper, S.D. “It would be totally irresponsible of TC Energy to bring workers from around the country into our rural areas, increasing all our exposure to the virus. Our rural areas are some of the most underserved areas by the healthcare industry in the entire country. It is not uncommon for people to have to drive 50 to 150 miles to see a doctor. Our ambulance services are staffed by volunteers, and are usually understaffed and overworked. Our rural areas are just not set up to handle what a coronavirus outbreak might bring. The health and welfare of our local people is too important to put them at risk.”