WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Members of North Dakota Native American tribes spoke in opposition Thursday to a proposed transmission line that would run through the Killdeer Mountain Battle site and urged that it at least be postponed until the battlefield can be studied.
But representatives of local electric cooperatives said delaying Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s proposal could mean turning out the lights for growing communities and oil and gas development projected to require more electricity.
About 15 people participated in a public hearing in Watford City to accept comments on a draft environmental impact statement on the project, hosted by Rural Utilities Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is considering funding the project.
The 345-kilovolt transmission line would start at the Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, head west through Killdeer, north through Williston and end at a substation near Tioga.
The environmental impact process considers three slightly different alternatives, but all three would affect an eight-mile area in the heart of the Killdeer Mountain Battle area, said Rob Sand, a spokesman for the Killdeer Mountain Alliance.
“The project must be sent back to the drawing board,” Sand said.
Basin Electric’s preferred route runs along U.S. Highway 85 and could be seen from up to 30 percent of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, said Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor. The other two alternatives would not affect the park, but all three would affect the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, she said.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe whose relatives fought in the Killdeer Mountain Battle and are buried there, said the project should wait for a North Dakota State University study to define the boundaries of the battle area.
“I’m not saying stop it, I’m saying do better planning,” she said.
Sara Jumping Eagle of Bismarck said she and other Native Americans consider Killdeer Mountain a sacred area for prayer, similar to a church.
“I don’t think that many people really understand the significance of that,” Jumping Eagle said. “If we tried to run pipelines and transmission lines through your church, I’m sure you’d have something to say about that.”
The battlefield area is primarily privately owned land. Craig Dvirnak, who owns the property that has been designated as the state’s historic marker for the battle, said he and all but one of his neighbors who live in the battlefield study area support the project. Dvirnak said Watford City needs the power for development such as new grocery stores, a proposed new school and a new hospital.
John Skurupey, general manager of McKenzie Electric Cooperative, said without the proposed transmission line, the cooperative will not be able to provide reliable electricity to meet the needs of residents and commercial development in the rapidly growing area. The cooperative will be forced to refuse service to current and future customers, Skurupey said.
“This is not a futuristic prediction but rather the road we’re traveling,” Skurupey said.
Claire Vigesaa, general manager for Upper Missouri G&T in Sidney, Mont., said project delays would lead to severe transmission limitations that would affect farmers, ranchers and residents in the region.
Several participants said they had little notice about Thursday’s meeting and that more would have attended if it had been advertised better. The Dakota Resource Council had called for the meeting to be delayed.
Curt Pearson, a spokesman for Basin Electric, said the meeting was advertised twice in newspapers along the route of the proposal at the end of December and beginning of January.
The project needs several permits to move forward, including the approval of the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
The U.S. Forest Service would have to grant a special use permit for the route that runs along Highway 85 because it affects public land, said District Ranger Jay Frederick.
“We don’t know which way we’re going to go just yet,” Frederick said.
The public comment period ends Feb. 3. Written comments on the scope of the environmental impact statement should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or Dennis Rankin, Environmental Protection Specialist, USDA, Rural Utilities Service, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Stop 1571, Washington, DC 20250-1571.
The supplemental draft environmental statement is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov/UWP-AVS-Neset.html.