Deep fissures fracturing their fields and pastures are only the most visible problem that landowners in Fallon and Carter counties say they’ve had with TransCanada’s Bison Pipeline.

They complain of heavy equipment pulverizing roads, ruining cattle guards and damaging stream crossings. “Fugitive” dust damaged crops and machinery and may result in health problems for livestock, landowners contend.

Wade Klauzer said Bison planted sagebrush in his alfalfa field when the right of way was reseeded.

Jason Frye, who farms wheat in Carter County and a corner of Fallon County, said Bison put sagebrush in his wheat field too, but he’s not concerned. Frye said the company is going to pay him to fix the problem.

The Bison Pipeline passes through about a mile of his family operation. Frye said he expects about 90 percent of the pipeline trench to cave in when all the snow melts.

He’s more confident than his neighbors that everything will turn out right in the end.

“They’re telling us they are going to fix it and they’re going to do it right,” he said. “I’m confident they’re going to do it right. I have to be optimistic.”

Klauzer and Janelle Rieger, who have pastures along the pipeline, say they have a hard time trusting TransCanada.

“They tell us one thing and they did another,” Klauzer said.

“There’s no consistency in what they tell you,” Rieger said. “Everyone tells you something different. Now I ask them to communicate by email. I want this in black and white with a timeline on it.”

Robert Rusley said his biggest complaint is fugitive dust. Dust from construction blew into his corn fields “raising heck” with the gathering chains on his combine. He had to replace the chains, at a cost of more than $1,000. He has sent TransCanada the bill, and hasn’t heard back yet.

“We called them and told them we had a problem and nobody did anything about it,” he said. “That’s what gripes me.”

Rieger said she watched dust from the construction site blow far from the right of way.

“The grass was covered with it,” she said. “Unfortunately, the cows had to eat it. Dust and blowing sand is very hard on cows’ teeth and lungs; it will shorten their productive years. We might have to sell some cows earlier than we planned.”

David Dodson, spokesman for TransCanada, agreed that dust was a problem during construction.

“When you have 10 percent humidity and 90-degree temperatures, you will have dust,” he said. “That’s why we are paying for crop damages for three years. Restoration takes time.”

Rusley said it will probably be more like eight to 10 years before production on the pipeline right of way will be back to what it was before construction.

They also complain about the reseeding process. Rieger said landowners were to have input on the seed mixture, but no one consulted her. She said she asked what seed mix was used and didn’t get a satisfactory answer.

Roads became another big issue during construction, and landowners are afraid the damage will be aggravated when TransCanada comes back to fill collapsing trenches.

“They told us all heavy equipment would use the right of way, yet D-8 Caterpillars and track hoes utilized county roads and ruined numerous cattle guards, ruined a cement water crossing and left roads in a muddy, rutty condition,” Klauzer said.

Dodson denied that the company had made promises not to use county roads. The roads will be fixed, he said.

“Right now is just not the time to repair roads,” he said. “If we caused the damage, we will fix it. Right now is not the time to repair roads. If we did it now when the ground is still wet, it would cause more harm than good.”

In the end it may be hard to satisfy some landowners who want their land put back the way it was pre-pipeline.

“I settled for what I thought was a good price,” Klauzer said. “If I had to do it today, I wouldn’t settle for three times as much.”

Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or lthackeray@billingsgazette.com

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