Killdeer Mountain Alliance statement at the Rural Utility Service hearing, presented by Rob Sand and researched by Ed Dickey. Both are Killdeer Mountain landowners. Thank you, Rob and Ed!
Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement at this public hearing concerning this important project. I am speaking on behalf of The Killdeer Mountain Alliance, a group of individuals working to preserve the cultural, spiritual, ecological, archaeological, and historical integrity of the Killdeer Mountains.
We learned of this meeting as a result of a press release dated January 10, 2014 published by Basin Electric and made available on the internet. Apparently the Rural Utility Service limited its notifications to other media as no other information regarding the meeting is available on the internet, which we as a scattered membership must rely upon for timely information.
Yesterday we learned that a Federal Register Notice was published by the Rural Utilities Service on Tuesday, January 14, just two days ago regarding this project. It states: “RUS will hold an open-house public hearing in January 2014 once the SDEIS is published. The time and location of the meeting will be well advertised in local media outlets a minimum of 15 days prior to the time of the meeting.” This commitment was not met; the notice of this meeting appeared in the Dunn County Herald on January 10, just six days ago. This edition of the Herald has not yet even been received by its mail subscribers. The January 14th Federal Register notice further states: “Public Participation: Pursuant to 36 CFR 800.22(d)(3), it is the intent of RUS to use its NEPA procedures for public involvement in lieu of the public involvement requirements of 36 CFR 800.3 through 800.7.” If you pursue this reference, you will find it does not exist; apparently the Rural Utilities Service intended to refer to CFR 800.2(d)(3) which authorizes the use of agency procedures for public involvement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The rush to hold this meeting is more than contemptuousness of the public input element of the NEPA process, it is reflective of the haste and superficiality of the investigations and analysis of alternatives that support this project in general and the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) in particular. The SDEIS for the Antelope Valley Station to Neset Transmission Project was developed to expand the alternatives considered because the original ones would not meet the current demand projections for movement of electrical energy in Western North Dakota. Equally important from our perspective was that for the first time the Rural Utility Service and the other cooperating agencies more appropriately recognized the extent and significance of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield as an important element of America’s Civil War experience. It is truly an important historical and cultural site from the perspective of both the Union Army forces and the Native Americans who fought and died there.
The fundamental problem with the SDEIS is that it develops no alternative that would avoid constructing eight miles (that is right, eight miles) of transmission lines though the heart of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. Consequently it fails to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Section 1502.1 of the Council on Environmental Quality’s NEPA implementing regulations states: “The primary purpose of an environmental impact statement is to serve as an action-forcing device to insure that the policies and goals defined in the Act are infused into the ongoing programs and actions of the federal government. It shall provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts and shall inform decisionmakers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment.”
Section 1502.14 of The Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations further requires agencies to: “Rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives, and for alternatives which were eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their having been eliminated.” The National Park Service recognizes the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield as a place eligible to be placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Proceeding to degrade a noteworthy historic site without even analyzing alternatives which would avoid doing so is unconscionable and fails to comply with the requirements of NEPA and the Council on Environmental Quality’s Implementing Regulations (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508).
It must be kept in mind that the reason that an Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared is because Basin Electric is requesting Federal taxpayer subsidies for constructing the transmission project. As concerned citizens, we find it to be absurd that one agency of the Federal government, in this case the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service, would even consider using its funds to degrade the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. After all, its sister Federal agency, the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior, used taxpayer money to study and to identify the battlefield site as a place worthy of protection through its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
What must be done to avoid degrading this unique historical and cultural site on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Killdeer Mountain, which took place on July 28, 1864? The project must be sent back to the drawing board. Alternatives that avoid crossing the battlefield must be evaluated in a detail comparable to analysis of the present alternatives. It must be demonstrated that it is not practicable to avoid degrading the Battlefield site. Only then will the requirements of the Environmental Protection Act be satisfied, and we as citizens and taxpayers can have confidence that the decisions of government are indeed in the public interest.