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In this Aug. 15 photo, conservationist Rob Sand discusses the Killdeer Mountains and the threats they face from oil. Now, the Killdeer Mountain Alliance is fighting another foe -- a proposed power line the group says would go right through the historic Killdeer Mountain Battlefield site.

Basin Electric plans power line through Killdeer Mountains

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news Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

KILLDEER -- Basin Electric Power Cooperative will have to answer to a lot of angry people at a public hearing in Killdeer today.

The company, citing booming oil development and its ripple effects, has proposed a new transmission line that would go through the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield site, alarming many.

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The $300 million project would route a 200-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line from the existing Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, west through Killdeer and then north through Williston, ending at a substation near Tioga.

It would run through the boundaries of a National Park Service study led by North Dakota State University history professor Tom Isern, who characterizes the battlefield as the most significant historic site in the state.

The 1864 Battle of Killdeer Mountain was a faceoff between native Dakota and Lakota fighters and Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully's forces. With more than 2,000 fighters on each side, Isern said, "it's the largest military engagement ever to take place on the Great Plains."

For its entire nine-state service area, Basin projects needing to grow by more than 1,600 megawatts by 2025 -- and 1,000 megawatts of that is just for oil-related growth.

"There's a lot of demand being placed on everybody because of what's going on in western and northwestern North Dakota," Basin spokesman Daryl Hill said. "This is just one part of the challenges everybody faces to cope or to keep up with this oil development that's occurring."

Hill said an archeologist Basin hired didn't see anything of significance in a preliminary survey, but Basin only recently learned of the NDSU study, so "this isn't the end of the story."

Basin spokeswoman Mary Miller cautioned, though, that Basin has had this route planned for a while and it's not the company's intent to move the line.

Some opponents of the project have questioned whether Basin's archeologist did a thorough enough look at the project site.

Conservationist Rob Sand, who lives near the site and fights for the mountain's preservation with the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, said the battlefield is not just a 1-acre site with a monument on it, but in fact "covers a great deal of area."

"Unfortunately it had to be a citizens' group that noticed it and put it together," he said.

"I think [Basin] looked at each spot where they were gonna put a power pole and just did a minimal survey -- a required survey -- of that and didn't look at the big picture," Sand said.

Public Service Commission Chair Brian Kalk said the size of this project is the reason for three different public hearings -- Tioga and Williston will also have hearings on Thursday and Thursday, Sept. 12, respectively.

"Of all the things that we do, power lines are by far the most difficult and the most contentious," he said.

The PSC can't tell a company how to do a project, but it can reject an application and explain why, Kalk said.

Sand said he's also concerned with what the power lines would do to the viewscape.

"This is a real serious problem and needs to be resolved," Sand said, "and I'm sure hoping that Basin Electric and the Public Service Commission will see this as an opportunity to do the right thing and move it off of the battlefield for sure but also look at the whole viewscape of the Killdeer Mountains."

Kalk encouraged members of the public to bring their own recommendations for the project if they're unhappy with the current plan.

This project is the latest in a series of apparent threats to the Killdeer Mountains, as oil development seeped in and the Alliance has been working to stop further drilling.

"It's pretty overwhelming to try to even think what's gonna happen because [the Mountains] could easily just be covered with oil wells and with roads and with power lines," Sand said.

"We have to be hopeful that there can be some kind of a sensitive resolution to these problems."

The public hearing will be at Killdeer City Hall, 165 Railroad St. SE at 9:30 MDT.

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