The story in yesterday’s Star Tribune about Krista and James Botsford, the North Dakota couple who have refused to accept payment of $50,000 to allow the Sandpiper pipeline to pass through their land, had for us a David vs. Goliath feeling.
It also reminded us of the long battle in Minnesota over what was called the CU Project. This proposal to build high-voltage direct current power lines across several central Minnesota counties led to substantial protests from farmers. All were worried about future use of their land, its value, and the safety of the lines. Most of all, we wrote when first wrote about the events here on the Hymies blog, “middle-Minnesota residents felt their lives and land were being disrupted to serve urban populations.”
“Pope County Blues” by Larry Long
The post went on: “Opposition to the CU Project led farmers to use ingenious guerrilla tactics – Construction sites were vandalized with tractors and farm tools. Trucks were used to block construction and their ignitions damaged. By 1978 incidents were increasingly serious – A crowd of a hundred or more farmers chased powerline crews from a worksite. Soon after, in the famous ‘Battle of Stearns County’ farmers sprayed state troopers with anhydrous ammonia. We are not making this up.
There were also nonviolent protests. Just a month later eight thousand people marched from Lowry to Glenwood in protest. Temperatures were below freezing. Regardless, the CU Project was ultimately completed nonetheless, using land owned by nearly 500 farmers, and the Coal Creek Station, which creates the power transmitted through the lines, is today the third largest producer of coal ash in the country. It is supplied by the Falkirk Mine in Underwood, North Dakota, one of the largest such operations in the country. It may be powering the computer on which you have just now listened to Larry Long’s song.
Other Minnesota folk singers wrote about the events (including Nancy Abrams, Dana Lyons and Charlie Broten) but Larry’s was the only recording we could find.
Whether someone will write a new song for the Botsfords fight against the Sandpiper pipeline seems unlikely to us — dramatic as they could be, court battles are hardly as exciting as protests. Like the Botsfords, who can trace the land’s legacy in their family back generations, we’re uncomfortable with the precedent set by the State of North Dakota using eminent domain law to force the family to comply.
Historically, these controversial provisions have been used to serve the public good, usually in the form of utilities. They seem increasingly to be used to further private interests, as in several cases here in the Twin Cities. Does it truly serves the public good for North Dakota Pipeline Co. to run $2.6 billion worth of line through three states to deliver Bakken fracking oil to Superior, Wisconsin? We have pretty simple lives here in the Longfellow neighborhood, and we’re glad to pay more for the little gas we use, the airplane tickets we rarely buy, and so on — especially if it means we’ll continue to live in a country with family farms.