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Daryl Hill: Proposed transmission line doesn't cross historic site

BISMARCK -- It takes years to develop a transmission line -- and that's before a shovel ever hits the ground.

For Basin Electric's proposed line in western North Dakota from the Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, N.D., to the Neset substation near Tioga, N.D., it's been more than two years of work and due diligence.

In that time, Basin Electric has submitted the required documents and permit applications, contacted state, federal and tribal agencies to make sure no significant cultural sites would be impacted and provided public notices, comment periods, legislative briefings and transparency with the public.

Just before the North Dakota Public Service Commission public hearings held in early September, Basin Electric was notified that the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University had been awarded a grant from the National Park Service.

The grant would fund a study of the historical significance of known battlefields in North Dakota, which might result in the inclusion of a portion of the battlefield study area in the National Register of Historic Places.

It's the area where a battle between troops commanded by Gen. Alfred Sully and a gathering of Teton, Yanktonai and Dakota (Sioux) Indians took place in 1864.

Basin Electric's AVS-to-Neset line does not run through the North Dakota state historic site, which for decades has been the location recognizing the battle. The newly proposed battlefield study area encompasses eight miles of the transmission line.

Recently, opposition to the line has surfaced despite countless opportunities for interested parties to comment through the Environmental Impact Statement comment period and hearings. There was no mention of the battlefield study area in any comments received before August.

But upon learning of the proposed battlefield study, Basin Electric was contacted by the State Historic Preservation Office to discuss the development, and we have committed to working closely with the state office.

Basin Electric wants to find a reasonable conclusion as we work through this issue. In fact, Basin Electric moved a substation -- which originally was planned within the proposed study area -- outside of the area.

Basin Electric currently is engaged in an additional site analysis along the route as well as additional testing at each structure location within the study area. A visual impact assessment of the project also was performed.

The recent announcement of the proposed study area associated with the Killdeer battlefield has created many misunderstandings. We believe the biggest misconception is that of time. Simply "moving the line" is not an option.

Another misconception is that the route is within the Killdeer Mountains. Comments were received as to preserve the scenic integrity of the Killdeer Mountains and the viewshed that it affords.

The line route is not "in" the Killdeer Mountains. And while it can be seen from the mountains, so can other, existing man-made infrastructure such as roads, farmsteads, oil production facilities, residential and commercial enterprises surrounding the city of Killdeer as well as the city of Killdeer itself.

Since the project was identified in 2011, Basin Electric has worked with more than 300 landowners to obtain easements on the route. Respecting the rights of private landowners is a critical element in developing a transmission line, and that's why Basin Electric communicates with them early in the development of a project and throughout the process.

We can't underscore enough the need to have this transmission line in place by 2016. This line will allow the delivery of much needed electricity to the area.

It is critical for keeping the lights on for our consumers. The line will increase reliability to the region, allow the delivery of more electricity and help improve our service to our member-consumers.

We all share the same goals of preserving North Dakota's beauty, heritage and rich history. Basin Electric is committed to ensuring that the proposed transmission line does not impact our state's history and culture.

We've also committed to conducting the additional site analyses to make sure the project addresses cultural resource concerns.

We believe common sense and a cooperative spirit must prevail. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. We desperately need this line -- to serve all consumers across our territory.

No one wins when the lights go out.

Hill is manager of media and communications relations for Basin Electric Power Cooperative.