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Proposed Billings County refinery in view of Sheila Schafer's resting place

MEDORA -- Sheila Schafer, for decades the grand dame of Medora, will have some of her ashes spread at 2,855 feet, the highest point in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Photo courtesy of North Dakota TourismA visitor takes in the view from Buck Hill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Sheila Schafer, for decades the grand dame of Medora, will have some of her ashes spread at 2,855 feet, the highest point in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
A visitor takes in the view from Buck Hill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Sheila Schafer, for decades the grand dame of Medora, will have some of her ashes spread at 2,855 feet, the highest point in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism)

MEDORA -- Sheila Schafer, for decades the grand dame of Medora, will have some of her ashes spread at 2,855 feet, the highest point in nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

As it turns out, the woman, whose great love for the park and Medora ended only with her death in March, would rest in view of a refinery proposed to be built three miles from the national park boundary.

Ed Schafer, former governor, currently chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and son of Medora’s developer, Harold Schafer, confirmed that Buck Hill is one place where his stepmother requested her ashes be spread.

“How she would feel about a refinery being visible from there, I don’t know and of course, she can’t tell us,” Schafer said.

He said he, personally, doesn’t know how he feels about it either, but said he hopes that officials and regulators will be talking about such issues like the visual line of sight from the park to the refinery.

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“Is this the proper location? I would think that all those conversations are going to take place,” Schafer said.

The park’s view shed analysis shows that the proposed 55,000 barrel per day refinery by Meridian Energy will be visible both from Buck Hill, a popular 360-degree viewing hill, and from 630 acres of the park along the eastern rim.

The Davis Refinery will be on the agenda today (Tuesday) when the Billings County Commission meets in Medora. At 10 a.m., the commission will take up a recommendation to approve zoning for the 715-acre site forwarded from the planning board on April 21. The project will also need a very restrictive Class 1 air quality permit from the State Health Department.

Park superintendent Wendy Ross said several people ask to have ashes spread in the park, and Buck Hill, along with Painted Canyon and Wind Canyon, are most often requested. Her own father’s ashes are on Buck Hill, she said.

Ross said she’s hopeful the park’s opposition to a refinery so near the entrance and visible from Buck Hill will be echoed by others today (Tuesday). She was pretty much the lone ranger at the zoning meeting, where most were in favor of jobs and development.

“People are just starting to wrap their minds around the details of what the refinery would mean and where it would be located. So many people had no idea and are really surprised,” she said.

Wally Owen, whose family is in banking in Medora, said the park would have more local supporters if park employees were more involved in the Medora community. He said he supports the refinery, but not without reservations.

“The location is the question. It’s not just the refinery, it’s the byproducts that come with it, the chemicals and the fertilizer. There were not three options, or even two options, but this is the only option. I support it, but not in that location,” Owen said.

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Doug Tescher, a Medora rancher and cabin outfitter, said he thinks his generation is more accepting of the park than were those when the park was developed in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. But that acceptance only goes so far.

“The fact that it’s government, I think that’s a lot of it. It goes back to private property and too much control, with wetlands and sage grouse. It’s not so much the park as government overall,” Tescher said.

Ross said she’s aware of the perception Tescher expresses.

“There can be an emotional response that we are overreaching our jurisdiction,” she said. It’s those intangible resources - the air quality, the water, the scenery - that all contribute to the visitor experience, she said.

She said park visitation is up 35 percent from last year at this time, possibly in response to popular press, including being named the New York Time’s top five of 50 destinations for 2016.

Schafer said the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation - his father’s legacy and creation - does not take positions on such issues.

“We trust the locals, the regulators will do with their jobs. We’re not going to weigh in, but we do have a mission of protection and preserving the area in the best possible manner,” he said.

 

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