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Associated Press, Published September 05 2013

Plans scrapped for electric substation in Killdeer Mountains area

KILLDEER, N.D. — Basin Electric Power Cooperative is scrapping plans to build an electrical substation in the Killdeer Mountains area of western North Dakota, but is still planning to build a transmission line in the area of a historical 1864 battle between Army soldiers and American Indians.

The utility wants to build the 200-mile line from the Antelope Valley Station power plant near Beulah to a spot near Tioga to deliver more electricity to the Bakken oil fields, where there is a growing demand for power. State regulators held a hearing in Killdeer on Wednesday about the proposal. Public Service Commission President Brian Kalk said it could be two months before the group makes a decision on approval.

The proposed $300 million project — which also needs federal approval because Basin plans to seek financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — comes at a time when an alliance is trying to protect the Killdeer Mountains region from oil drilling.

The transmission line route and the substation were proposed in an area where soldiers led by Army Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully clashed with Sioux warriors more than 200 years ago. The battlefield is now a state historic site, and the National Park Service has approved a $90,000 study to be led by North Dakota State University on whether it should be considered for federal protection.

Basin's engineering manager, Duey Marthaller, said the co-op didn't learn of the study until early last week and moved immediately to remove a proposed 12-acre substation from the area. Substations help distribute electricity to consumers.

Basin's environmental manager, Chris Miller, said the transmission line project has been in the works for three years and that the corridor was developed with comment from the public. Options are limited because of a nearby highway and an existing transmission line, he said.

The co-op will agree to recommendations from the State Historical Society, including moving the substation and assessing the visual effects of the transmission line, Miller said.

Valerie Naylor, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, said portions of Basin's power line would be seen from up to 30 percent of the park's North Unit.

Gerard Baker, an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and a 35-year career veteran of the National Park Service, said more tribal input is needed, especially from the Sioux tribes that were engaged in the 1864 battle.

“I encourage you to move it (transmission line) out of the area so that there can be a pure area where people can stand in the middle of the battlefield and talk about what they were fighting for, for their children and their grandchildren,” he said.