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Little Missouri River crossing stirs debate

Jim Fuglie of Bismarck speaks to Jennifer Turnbow of Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson during a Thursday evening meeting at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora.

MEDORA -- Emotions ran high as about 80 people shared concerns and information about a proposed Little Missouri River crossing during a Thursday evening meeting at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.

The project, which officials say has been in the making for more than 20 years, is being spearheaded by the Billings County Commission to provide a reliable transportation link.

Those in favor say it would be more convenient for traffic and emergency services to have a crossing, but those opposed say it would have too much impact on the area.

Most options presented are within a few miles of Elkhorn Ranch, a historic site where Theodore Roosevelt ranched. Because of this, Elkhorn Ranch was named to the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation on Wednesday.

Eileen Andes, Theodore Roosevelt National Park chief of interpretation, said some of the options presented would "irreparably disrupt the landscape around the Elkhorn Ranch, would produce more industrial truck traffic, dust and noise and would permanently destroy the experience Roosevelt enjoyed."

"That experience is priceless and it can't be reconstructed once it's gone," Andes said.

Others said people's lives may one day be saved because there would be quicker route in an emergency.

"We've had people stuck in that river, buried in there. The last one I pulled out of there, we spent five hours getting him out of it," said George Boyce. "The more we put this off, somebody's life is going to be on the line. I guarantee it."

Others are concerned they will lose land because the project will cross their property.

"Is there some emotion, some anger associated with it? Yes there is and I don't think we have to apologize for that due to what the significant changes would be to everybody involved with this," said Jeb Williams of Bismarck, who's relatives own a ranch in the area of the proposal. "Need versus convenience I think is an important point."

Jim Arthaud, Billings County Commission chairman, said he understands the frustration, but said an environmental impact study underway has produced the seven options for bridge and road construction presented.

"Would I like this across my land? Probably not," Arthaud said. "I can tell you where I think it needs to go. It needs to go on public lands."

None of the options presented are completely on public land.

Arthaud called the process to bridge the Little Missouri River in Billings County, on which the county has spent about $700,000, "ridiculous."

"Perhaps, Mr. Arthaud, if you think the process is so ridiculous, it's because you have a bad idea," Jim Fuglie, of Bismarck said.

Billings County is funding the environmental study, said project manager Jennifer Turnbow of Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson.

Construction could be partially federal and county funding, she said though cost estimates have not been formulated. The Federal Highway Administration will make the final decision on the project, Turnbow said.