WATFORD CITY — A power company went back to the drawing board and came up with two alternate routes for a massive new transmission line. It solves some issues, but not the primary one of crossing the Killdeer Mountain battlefield.
Basin Electric Power Cooperative plans to send nearly 700 kilovolts of much-needed electricity to the Bakken oil patch from its power plant near Beulah.
On Thursday, Basin unveiled two new routes for getting there along with one the public has already seen.
A supplemental draft environmental impact statement was released at a public hearing in Watford City. It’s required because so many federal agencies are involved and the two alternatives are new.
The public can comment on it until Feb. 3.
All three alternatives will still cross eight miles of the Killdeer Mountains foothills west of the town of Killdeer. The path tracks through an area short-listed by the American Battlefield Protection Program as the most at-risk of all Civil War-era Indian battlefields. It is under study by a North Dakota State University heritage group to detail its history and condition.
The piece through the battlefield area can’t be avoided because Basin has to connect to a major substation called Charlie Creek near U.S. Highway 85 to the west, said Cris Miller, the co-op’s senior environmental manager.
Two strong voices of opposition were from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which was engaged by the U.S. military in the 1864 battle.
LaDonna Allard, the tribe historian whose ancestors were engaged with Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully in 1864, said she wants the project postponed until the battlefield boundaries are defined by the study.
She called the environmental document “appalling” for its lack of knowledge.
“This is a Civil War battlefield,” she said. “Why doesn’t North Dakota know its own history?”
She said Sioux burials remain there, including those of her relatives.
“We know where they are,” she said.
“Are we going to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle in the middle of this development?” she asked.
Sioux historic preservation officer Waste’ Win Young called the environmental study biased and incomplete.
“How can you in one document dispute the boundaries of the battlefield and then say, ‘Oh, this is where they buried their (war) dead?’” she said.
The difference in the alternatives is how to move the power north and across Lake Sakakawea.
Basin wants to build two new power lines and load 345 kilovolts on each one — one traveling north along U.S. 85 from the substation and another backfeeding and then going north along N.D. Highway 22.
In two other alternatives, new in this study, it would use the backfeed route and either build two parallel lines along N.D. 22, or one that’s double-circuited on one support structure.
Each of the alternatives eventually would cross the Little Missouri River, on to Williston and then east toward Tioga.
Miller said Basin prefers two routes because of reliability. The miles between them could prevent both being involved in an outage at the same time, he said.
But Basin may not get what it wants.
The U.S. Forest Service, the Western Area Power Administration and the Rural Utilities Service all have to approve the project in separate records of decision.
The route Basin wants — the one with two distinct lines — would cross eight miles of U.S. Forest Service land and head past the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where it would be visible, but only with binoculars.
Jay Frederick, local ranger for the Forest Service, said the new alternatives changed the discussion for his agency.
The one Basin prefers would affect the agency’s Lone Butte roadless area and the national park. The other two don’t, he said.
The two new alternatives cross much more private land, financially benefiting individuals rather than the government — and the project’s bottom line. Frederick said his agency could decide whether it would issue a permit in as soon as a month.
“If we say ‘no,’ they have to go to the other routes,” he said.
Basin will spend about $500 million to construct the lines, Miller said. The electricity would add to about 270 megawatts of recently constructed power from three gas-fired turbines in the oil patch.
The company is trying to meet a demand for electricity that has doubled in recent projections.
Theodore Roosevelt Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor said industrial development is cumulative and she cautioned against too much.
“You reach a tipping point where you’ve changed the landscape so much, you’ve lost the value of it,” Naylor said
She said she’s glad to see alternatives that don’t visually impact the park, but said she’d prefer a project that didn’t affect the battlefield area.
The American Battlefield Protection Program is a National Park Service program.
Jan Swenson, director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, represented her group at the sparsely attended hearing.
“I’m delighted to see two alternatives that avoid going past the national park,” she said.
As for the battlefield route remaining in play, she said: “One step at a time.”
Miller said Basin hopes to have a decision by mid-year. It is also awaiting a permit from the Public Service Commission. He said the PSC hasn’t seen the new alternatives and the co-op would have to make another route application for those.