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Published February 13 2014

Forum editorial: Power line dispute a symptom

The latest reporting on a proposed electric transmission line across a historic North Dakota battlefield suggests line advocates manipulated data regarding the historical significance of the site. An 1864 battle between American Indians and the U.S. Cavalry has been characterized as one of the most important clashes in the nation’s Indian wars. The Basin Electric line will cross the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield about eight miles north of Killdeer, in Dunn County.

In a Sunday story by The Forum’s Patrick Springer, a North Dakota State University academic who has a grant to study the battlefield charged that a review commissioned by Basin purposefully ignored pertinent findings about the cultural importance of the area. Tom Isern is historian-director of the Center for Cultural Heritage Renewal at NDSU. He and his students have been studying the battlefield, and have come to conclusions at some variance with findings in a Basin report. Basin’s consultant admitted to being aware of a National Park Service report that emphasized the area’s historic and cultural values. Basin’s review did not include that evaluation.

Isern said of the Basin review that “omissions were made knowingly” to avoid controversy that could stall the project. The consultant Basin hired declined comment. A Basin spokesman conceded the consultant knew of the Park Service study but could not explain why it was not in Basin’s review.

Additionally, Basin is a member of Touchstone Energy Partners, which recently donated $1.3 million to the State Historical Society, which, Isern suggested, might explain the society’s reluctance to get more involved in the dispute.

Finally, United Tribes of North Dakota last fall passed a resolution opposing development that would disturb the site. That’s where it apparently ends for the tribes. Thus far, there has been no hint tribal leaders are ready to further challenge the line’s route.

It’s a clash of values. No one disputes that the power line is needed to serve electricity demand in oil country. And no one denies the unique historical importance of the battlefield. But given Basin’s incomplete assessment of the cultural value of the site, and given the pro-development tilt of the state’s regulators, the power line as configured looks to be a done deal without a comprehensive assessment of factors other than suitability for the line.

It’s another example of how skewed applications of the state’s “business friendly” mantra have become heritage and history unfriendly. The power line dispute is one element of a complicated and evolving saga. And this time, “when the land is quiet again,” the loss of values North Dakotans say they cherish could be staggering.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.