PAUL SUKUT: Co-op takes care to protect battlefield
BISMARCK — The Forum News Service story, “Professor claims historic value of power line path purposely ignored,” contains bold assertions by Tom Isern, historian-director of the Center for Cultural Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University (Page C6, Feb. 9).
The story refers to Basin Electric’s proposed Antelope Valley Station-Neset transmission line, which would extend west from the Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, N.D., to Tioga, N.D.
The 278-mile line will address the significant demand for electricity in northwest North Dakota and improve reliability of the existing system, ultimately strengthening the infrastructure throughout the region.
Basin is a not-for-profit wholesale generation and transmission cooperative, which serves member cooperatives in the region. Those co-ops are on the front lines, working around the clock to serve this tremendous growth. As their power supplier, we have an obligation to serve our members, who in turn serve their consumers, whether they are residential, commercial or industrial.
At issue is the location of the line, which crosses an area that NDSU received a grant from the National Park Service to evaluate as a potential historical site in which a battle between the U.S. military and the Plains Indians took place in 1864.
While Basin was not made aware of this study until late August 2013, two years after work to site the line commenced, Kimball Banks of Metcalf Archaeological Consultants said a 2010 National Park Service report highlighting the battlefield’s importance and eligibility for preservation obligates him to conclude that the site already meets the criteria for preservation.
Banks’ responsibility was to identify areas within the line route that met criteria for being classified as avoidance or exclusion areas, including areas of cultural protection. With undefined and subjective boundaries, the proposed, expanded battlefield area did not, and still does not, meet requirements of Class 1 protection status.
Significant work, consideration and evaluation went into route selection. One of our first steps was to gather existing information from federal and state agencies. The search covered cultural, biological, socio-economics, land use information and other issues. Agencies responsible for managing their respective area of jurisdiction were contacted to identify areas of concern or special requirements a project may have to evaluate.
Additionally, Basin worked with 512 landowners resulting in more than 10,000 landowner contracts to determine support and input for the line location. We have a long history of solid relationships with our landowners and have great support for this project.
Throughout this time, Basin maintained close contact with members of the public and state, county and federal agencies, including the National Park Service. There were scoping meetings for agencies and members of the public and also a draft Environmental Impact Statement was issued and underwent a comment period and hearing.
At no time during these processes did any member of the public, state or federal agency bring up the battlefield study, much less request the area be avoided.
But since Basin became aware of this study area in August 2013, we have taken steps to preserve the history of the area, agreeing to the Historical Society of North Dakota’s request to move a proposed substation and committing to additional survey work to ensure no battlefield-related resources are directly impacted.
The story highlights a $1.3 million pledge from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives announced in 2008. Partnering in this donation is Basin Electric, the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and some member-cooperatives.
One of the cooperative core principles is “Commitment to Community,” and we take seriously our support of community efforts to preserve history and help those in need. Our donation to the Heritage Center is one of many contributions we make in North Dakota and other states.
Isern’s assertion that the donation “might have muzzled the State Historical Society of North Dakota” indicates his lack of understanding of electric cooperatives, our values and integrity. Furthermore, it directly discredits the mission of the Historical Society with his absurd allegations that they can be bought off.
Basin Electric recognizes this situation respects all opinions and is working with regulating agencies to mitigate impacts, but we also need to meet our obligation to deliver power to our member-owners. While there is no doubt the landscape in northwest North Dakota has changed, our responsibility lies in serving our members with electricity, which is a lifeline. No one wins if the lights go out.
Sukut is interim CEO and general manager of Basin Electric Power Cooperative.