In recent news reports, North Dakota State University professor Tom Isern stated, in so many words, that the State Historical Preservation Office has not gone the extra mile and taken the lead in protecting and preserving the 17,340 acres in his proposed study of the Killdeer Mountain battlefield area.
More than 16,000 of those acres are privately owned. We commend Fern Swenson, North Dakota’s deputy historic preservation director, for her comments acknowledging that protecting and preserving privately owned and held land is not within the mission or the jurisdiction of the State Historical Preservation Office. For the office to step outside of that would be both negligent and remiss on its part. The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the one-acre Killdeer Battlefield State Historic Site and that is all it is obligated to protect and preserve.
Furthermore, the proposed power line route does not even cross the Battlefield State Historic Site — the site is three-quarters of a mile north of the proposed route.
Isern stated publicly that “shoddy” and incomplete work has been done deliberately. However, following our thorough review of Isern’s grant application to the National Park Service to study the Killdeer Battlefield, it was very apparent that Isern’s claims of “shoddy” and incomplete work most accurately describe the quality of his own grant application.
The stated objective of his grant request is to “begin the National Register nomination process,” a designation that requires landowner acceptance and approval. Our examination of Isern’s grant application reveals:
-- The grant process requires public meetings to inform landowners and the public of the study, but to date no informational meetings have occurred. Landowners owning 95 percent of the proposed study area are entitled to information on it and what restrictions the federal designation on the National Register of Historic Places would place on landowners’ use of their private property.
-- The application does not list all the private landowners in the proposed study area, contrary to the National Park Service’s grant requirement to list all landowners “in the project area whose property is involved in the project.” In fact, our names, along with 24 others, are not even listed.
-- The Park Service grant application states: “Also attach letters from each land owner (emphasis added) whose property requires access for this grant giving the applicant permission to undertake work on their property.” Isern’s application contains only one letter of support, from the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, representing two landowners who own 260 acres of the proposed 17,340-acre study area.
-- Isern states in his grant application that participation of the Killdeer Mountain Alliance as well as the presence of state land “will provide sufficient access to complete the goals of this project.” The state of North Dakota owns 991.5 acres in the proposed study area. Taken together with the 260 acres listed above, Isern is claiming that a combined total of 1,252 acres — a mere 7.2 percent of the total proposed study area — is “sufficient access” to complete the study. In contrast, Basin Electric contacted all landowners at the very beginning of its process (for obtaining right of way for a transmission line).
It is important that the public is aware that Isern deliberately chose to seek his funding first without ever consulting those people whose private property he wished to involve in the proposed study. In a conversation with Isern, he stated that he “doesn’t feel there is a need to bring the landowners on board until the second year of the study, when he would have need of our property.” Based upon what we have observed, experienced and read throughout this entire debacle, it is our belief that there is unquestionable deception by Isern, The Center for Heritage Renewal and The Killdeer Mountain Alliance.
Because Isern is a member of the North Dakota State University faculty, the citizens and taxpayers of North Dakota should be asking why such behavior is allowed to continue under the umbrella of the university system. It seems fitting that a response from Dean Bresciani, president of NDSU, or Larry Skogen, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, is in order. Remember, gentlemen, the landowners of North Dakota will judge you by your actions — and the company you keep.
Since 1929, and long before any studies were proposed, the Dvirnak family has worked diligently to protect our land and the site of the Battle of the Killdeer Mountains. This has been our choice — one we have been proud and privileged to undertake and one that we intend to continue on our privately-owned land.