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Public Service Commissioner hears concerns over Basin power line

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn At Killdeer City Hall on Thursday, Gerard Baker, who grew up near the Killdeer Mountains, asks for Basin Electric Power Cooperative's proposed power line to be taken off the mountains at a public hearing on the project.

KILLDEER -- Basin Electric Power Cooperative committed to moving a substation off Killdeer Mountain Battlefield at a public hearing for the project Wednesday. Despite the concession, opponents of the project still have concerns.

The Killdeer site was a hot topic at the Public Service Commission hearing here, where Basin presented its plans and members of the public voiced concerns over the location and effects of the line.

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.

While there was some fiery opposition, others seemed resigned to and accepting of a compromise between the natural environment and oil-related development, saying the power lines would just blend into the background after a while.

"If you're worried about impact, the impact is already there," said Craig Dvirnak, who owns land near the project.

Cris Miller, Basin's senior environmental project administrator, pointed out residences, oil wells and existing power lines already in the Killdeer Mountains area.

Part of the route, which Basin says will help meet the oil boom's growing energy need, would run straight through an area to be studied by North Dakota State University historians.

The purpose of the study, which would more specifically define the boundaries of the battlefield, is to bring the site to the attention of the National Park Service for possible special designation, research assistant Aaron Barth told the commission.

Since finding out about the battlefield last Tuesday, Basin has committed to moving the Gumbo Creek substation in Killdeer and will work with the State Historic Preservation Office and the NDSU study coordinators.

Basin hasn't found a new location for the substation yet.

The company also has agreed to use materials that help the transmission towers blend into the natural environment more, as requested by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Moving the Gumbo Creek substation is appreciated, "but the proposed transmission line route remains a concern," Lori Jepson, an area landowner and a member of the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, told the commission.

Valerie Naylor, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, presented the National Park Service's concerns with the project, which focused more on the larger picture of oil development affecting nature.

This project is one of many with minor to moderate impacts attributed to oil development, and "the cumulative impacts from the Bakken oil boom are enormous," Naylor said.

According to a preliminary analysis, portions of Basin's power line would be seen from up to 30 percent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit.

The PSC will also host hearings for the project in Tioga today and in Williston on Thursday, Sept. 12.

A problem with the process

The fact that Basin only heard of the battlefield last Tuesday, after the project has been in development for a couple of years, raised a red flag for many.

"Perhaps there's a better way so that things like this come up sooner," Basin project coordinations representative Curt Pearson said. "This points out the need for a more comprehensive data exchange."

PSC member Julie Fedorchak said she found it "disturbing" that Basin and the PSC found out about the battlefield so late in the game, and called on Barth and others in his field to work to find a better system for alerting developers of historically significant places earlier in the process.

Miller said if Basin had heard of the battlefield's significance sooner than last week, there could've been a chance to move the power line completely off the mountains.

Former National Park Service administrator Gerard Baker, who grew up in sight of the Killdeer Mountains, said in his Native American culture, he learned of the battle not from books, but "from the lips of the elders."

He asked for the line to be moved off the mountains for the benefit of future generations.

Baker wants people in the future to be able to go to the mountains and "stand in the middle of that battlefield and talk about this battle" and the Native Americans, "fighting for their land."