TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that built the Bison natural gas pipeline across southeastern Montana, has contacted several landowners to propose compensation for damage caused by its construction.

Landowners in Fallon and Carter counties sharply criticized the company, charging that TransCanada was unresponsive to problems that developed along its 50-foot-wide easement through their pastures, fields and rangeland.

Fissures 3 and 4 feet deep and hundreds of feet long developed on the right of way as the pipeline trench collapsed this spring. The landowners charge that TransCanada was in such a hurry to construct the high-pressure pipeline that its contractors worked through the harsh winter. When snow and ice in the trench and in the backfill melted this spring, the trench began to cave.

A company spokesman did not dispute their version, but said the company would fix the problem when weather and ground conditions permit.

David Dodson, a spokesman for TransCanada, said Thursday that landowners featured in a Billings Gazette story Wednesday have all been contacted and compensation offered.

“We are taking care of the landowners,” he said. “We really mean it when we say we’re going to fix it.”

Wade Klauzer, who ranches on 3,500 acres in Carter County, said TransCanada gave him a check to cover some of the damage, including wide fissures through his pastures, erosion and dust issues.

“It’s not what I wanted, but I’m going to say I’m satisfied,” he said.

Klauzer said he feels a little better about TransCanada now.

“At least they’re out here talking to us,” he said. “They promised to fix the cattle guards and the roads. I think these new guys are sincere in trying to rectify the problems.”

One of the landowners’ major complaints was that county roads and cattle guards were ruined by heavy equipment used to build the pipeline.

Janelle Rieger, who has pasture in Carter County crossed by three miles of the Bison Pipeline, said a company representative “gave us a check for inconvenience and told us to figure up a bill for what added expenses we have incurred due to the pipeline.”

She still remains critical of the company.

“They could have saved themselves all this hassle if they would have talked to us and acted in good faith,” she said. “I could do better PR work than their hired guns. At least they should have come and visited last winter, and said yes, there are going to be problems, and we will do something and here it is in writing, instead of sending letters saying they were done, sign here.”

Wilma Rusley, whose husband, Robert, talked to The Gazette for the story in Wednesday editions, said TransCanada has agreed to pay for dust problems that damaged equipment, fields and feed.

But the payment will be for dust damage only, she said, not for four or five other issues, including erosion that is silting up creeks on their property abutting the North Dakota line.

She’s not inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt about how the problems will be fixed.

“Talk is cheap,” she said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what they do. If they don’t do it right, we’re not going to shut up.”

She said she hopes their experience with TransCanada will serve as an example to other Montanans who are negotiating with the company on its proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that will traverse Montana from the Canadian border to the South Dakota line in Fallon County.

“People need to get a lot more stuff written into their contracts,” she said.

Dodson said TransCanada is looking at the best way to fix trench collapses and expects that it’s going to be a difficult job.

“We have our best people on it,” he said.

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

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