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Associated Press, Published February 15 2013

ND Senate rejects measure on Killdeer battlefield

The North Dakota Senate on Friday rejected a bill that would have provided about $5,000 for archaeological and historical surveys in the Killdeer Mountains battlefield, near an area where oil development is planned.

Sponsors of the bill had originally asked for $250,000 for the study, which they deemed important after the North Dakota Industrial Commission last month approved the drilling of wells about five miles from the site of the Battle of Killdeer Mountain.

Historians believe the 1864 battle was the possibly the most important battle between the U.S. forces and American Indians. Archaeologist Richard Rothaus, who has an office in Fargo, and North Dakota State history professor Tom Isern have applied for a grant from National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program to study the area.

"To me, that right there is the start of the war that ends in the Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee," Rothaus said last week.

Republican Sen. Rich Wardner of Dickinson, one of the prime sponsors of the bill, withdrew his support Friday. He said he believes the July 1864 battle was a special event, but decided that "private ownership should be respected" and that trumps the study.

"We don't need a war going on in this particular neighborhood," Wardner said.

The measure failed with 31 no votes to 16 yes votes.

Hess Corp., which received a permit last month to drill up to eight wells, has not said when they might start operations in the area. A Hess official has said the company seeks to minimize the impact on the environment.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill said some landowners were worried the study would have adversely affected their land.

Republican Sen. Dick Dever, of Bismarck, said there are many people who are passionate about the area and the history, and doesn't think a killed bill should keep the State Historical Society or anyone else from doing research.

"With or without this bill, the historical society could work together with those landowners to gain information they might find useful," Dever said.

Democratic Sen. Connie Triplett, of Grand Forks, one of the sponsors of the bill, said she believed one of the reasons the original bill was reduced from $250,000 to about $5,000 is because the study would not involve private property, only a small parcel of public land, and therefore not be as extensive.

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee had voted 6-1 to approve the measure. Fargo Democratic Sen. Carolyn Nelson, who spoke Friday in favor of the bill, said afterward that opinions changed after some landowners complained that they weren't included in the process.

"Well, I think once we got into the family feud — some emails that went back and forth, people who are actually landowners there — the tide turned," Nelson told The Associated Press.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.