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In Texas Pipeline Fight, People Step In as Green Groups Step Aside

Eleanor Fairchild, 78, is among more than 30 activists arrested since August for using nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the Keystone XL in Texas.

Nov 14, 2012
(Page 3 of 4 )
Landowner Eleanor Fairchild (right) and actress Daryl Hannah (left) were arreste

TransCanada eventually raised its offer for her land to $60,000, but Fairchild refused to sign. The company then obtained the easement through eminent domain for $24,000, an amount Fairchild is contesting. Her check from TransCanada is still sitting in the courthouse.

According to StateImpact Texas, TransCanada has filed eminent domain claims for more than 100 of the 850 properties it needs in Texas. Many of those cases already have been settled.

For Fairchild, what began as concern for her property gradually grew into something much bigger.

"It's about more than just my land…I decided this wasn't good for the country," she said. "We have a water shortage in Texas, and to take a chance of ruining our water—to me it's just stupid."

She got a harsh reminder of those risks in July 2010, when a ruptured pipeline spilled more than a million gallons of dilbit into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. More than two years later, that cleanup still isn't complete. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered Enbridge Inc., the Canadian company responsible for the spill, to dredge oil from an addition 100 acres of the riverbed.

Another disappointment came in April 2011, when Fairchild and a neighbor traveled to Washington, D.C. to share their concerns with Texas senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. "We had [scheduled] appointments, and we ended up sitting in their waiting rooms talking to [their] assistants…They just said they didn't have time for us."

Four months later, when the Tar Sands Coalition called for a massive demonstration in D.C., Fairchild was ready to risk arrest. She joined the sit-in outside the White House and was arrested the day after her 77th birthday.

Most of the 1,200 people arrested were landowners and citizen activists. The environmental groups that organized the sit-in also joined in: Colarulli and some of her Sierra Club colleagues took vacation days to get arrested. So did several NRDC staffers.

Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace, believes the event made some groups "less allergic" to the idea of civil disobedience. But he added that the White House demonstration was a low risk event compared to what the Tar Sands Blockade is doing now.

The protesters in Texas are actively preventing pipeline construction with their "blood, sweat and tears," Davies said. "You don't get to go home at 5 p.m. They are stopping an action at the source."

Lawsuits and Media Attention

Although Fairchild didn't know it at the time, she was arrested in D.C. on the same day as actress Daryl Hannah, who was also protesting the pipeline.

In October, Hannah flew to Texas to help the Tar Sands Blockade. She met with Fairchild, and on the spur of the moment the two women decided to walk in front of a construction vehicle on Fairchild's land.

A Tar Sands Blockade video from that day shows Fairchild and Hannah jogging toward a bulldozer. They stand on the pipeline easement, arms raised, until the machine rolls to a stop.

Fairchild said the deputies who arrested her tried to talk her into leaving. They said, "'We don't want to arrest you.' I said, 'What's going to happen to my friend?...If you don't tell me what will happen to her, you'll have to arrest me.'"

Both Fairchild and Hannah were arrested and released later that night. Their arrest, plus the detainment a week later of two New York Times journalists who were reporting on the tree sitters, gave the Tar Sands Blockade a surge of media attention.

"I just think it's crazy you have to do some bizarre things to get attention," Fairchild said.

Fairchild said she is now fighting for future generations, including her five great-grandchildren and a 14-year old granddaughter who is "very proud of me."

"I'm old. I'm going to die in a few years, and that's life—that's a normal part of life," she said. "But I'm concerned about what I and others have left on this earth for our grandkids."

Fairchild said she'll stay off the easement from now on, but she won't stop talking to the media or protesting the pipeline while standing elsewhere on her land. "I'm not going to be squelched."

Still, she has doubts about the protesters' ability to stop the pipeline. "It's just a matter of time and they'll have to come out of those trees."

TransCanada recently moved the pipeline's path to circumvent the tree sitters. The company has also filed civil lawsuits against the Tar Sands Blockade and various individuals, including Fairchild, seeking to stop them from interfering with pipeline construction.

Seifert, the blockade spokesman, said lawyers have offered to represent the defendants pro bono.

"I'm not scared anymore," Fairchild said. "Whatever happens to me…they can't hurt me, you know what I mean? I'm standing up for what I think is right."

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