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For Montanans living in Keystone XL’s path, support for GOP is in the pipeline

Waitress Sherri Archambeault, 58 – shown with dogs Bo and Maggie near her home in Glasgow, Mont. – supports the Keystone XL pipeline, and intends to vote for Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential election.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

It had always been boom or bust in Glasgow, but now it's neither. First came the rail heyday. Then, 80 years ago now, the rush to build a hydro dam. The air force base closed during the Vietnam war. Nothing much has popped up since.

Instead, basic civic trappings are all that prop up this whistle-stop outpost in eastern Montana – a hospital, a county office, the railway and an expanding two-storey motel. Things haven't quite died, but they've stalled. The entire county – and this town comprises about half of it – issued just three building permits last year. Many people here want a shot in the arm.

They want Keystone XL.

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Glasgow, population 3,300, is the first town along the U.S. leg of the proposed pipeline from Alberta's oil sands, one that President Barack Obama shelved in January. Keystone would have run along the northeast edge of this town, bringing construction jobs and a tax base with it. Now, Glasgow's next boom is in limbo.

To many folks here, the pipeline question is dead simple: Environmentalists are sticks in the mud, and all the President did was spike a jobs bonanza to avoid angering environmentalists in an election year.

"They put it on the back burner because he was too afraid to do anything about it," fumes Sherri Archambeault, 58, a Glasgow waitress who voted for Mr. Obama four years ago. Now, she expects she'll vote for Republican Mitt Romney.

She sees the stagnant economy's impacts. Her grown son has moved home from California, in search of work. Ms. Archambeault sees rail cars rolling through each day loaded with oil. "You're telling me that's safer than a pipeline?" she asks.

She pins Keystone's delay on Mr. Obama and on Nebraska, home of the ecologically sensitive Sandhills, which TransCanada is trying to go around by drawing a new Keystone route. Ms. Archambeault has no time for that.

"Montana, we're all for it," she says of the pipeline. "It's Nebraska that has the problem."

Glasgow is the hub of this overwhelmingly Republican region in a state with bipartisan undercurrents. The pipeline is supported here – the company building it says 97 per cent of landowners along the route have signed on. In Mr. Romney, residents see an unabashed Keystone supporter, one who invokes the pipeline regularly in speeches and interviews as evidence of a President who is out of touch. Mr. Obama made gains here in 2008, losing narrowly; now, his camp projects a Romney win.

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The pipeline plays big here.

"It's a big deal around here. People are frustrated by it. They think it's politically motivated," says Drew Markle, 33. He and his brother are fourth-generation owners of Markle's Ace Hardware along the town's faded main drag.

Some who came to Glasgow expecting to work on the pipeline, or stayed here hoping for work to start, have now left, he says.

"When it came to make it a green-light project, he balked on it," says Mr. Markle, a libertarian and Ron Paul devotee who expects to vote for Mr. Romney. "It won't be Obama, that's for sure."

Some here have their reservations and worry about the potential environmental risk. "I'd hate to have a big disaster here. That scares me," says Jeff Knodel, 53, a father of three who owns a local pizza restaurant. But others see the pipeline construction as inevitable.

"It's going. It doesn't matter which president," says Willie Zimmer, 65, a retired janitor, former mayor, Vietnam veteran and current quartermaster at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. All this uproar over a pipeline leaves the veterans confused, he says. They see a spill as a small risk.

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"What's a few thousand barrels of oil?" he says. "It doesn't hurt anything. You dig a trench, you put a pipe in it and away you go."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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