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Kimball Banks: Power line would not harm battlefield

BISMARCK — There is no doubt that in 1864 soldiers attacked a Sioux village at Killdeer Mountains, Dakota Territory. What is not known is exactly where that battle took place.

In a recent Forum News Service story, North Dakota State University history professor Tom Isern claims to know the boundaries of the battlefield and charges Basin Electric’s proposed transmission line will adversely affect that battlefield (“Professor claims historic value of power line path purposely ignored,” Page C6, Feb. 9).

Isern further claims that he and his students have been studying the battlefield and reached conclusions contrary to a Basin Electric Power Cooperative report. But he has yet to present definitive evidence substantiating his claims.

He relies on a National Park Service map showing a “potential” boundary for the battlefield, a boundary that has yet to be ground-truthed.

In the story’s words, Isern claims that Metcalf Archaeological Consultants Inc. “purposefully ignored pertinent findings about the cultural importance of the area.” In fact, Basin contracted with Metcalf in 2011 to conduct archaeological investigations of the proposed transmission line.

Metcalf searched site files of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, consulted with local landowners about possible impacts of the line on the battlefield, walked the project corridor, used metal detectors and excavated shovel tests within the potential boundaries of the battlefield and conducted historic research in an attempt to determine if the transmission line would harm anything significant associated with the battle.

In the eight miles that supposedly transect the potential battlefield, we found four artifacts — all bullets — from the time period and no other evidence.

Basin also contracted with a tribal consulting firm to survey the corridor in 2013.

Although Isern applied for and received a grant to investigate the battlefield, he failed to notify local landowners and ask permission to study their lands. Instead, the landowners learned of his proposed study from a newspaper article.

Because he failed to discuss the project with them, they denied him access and continue to refuse to work with him.

Basin, Metcalf, and the Historical Society have done due diligence in compliance with state and federal laws. Local landowners respect and protect the battlefield. These landowners also recognize a need for the transmission line and granted Basin right of way across their lands. Basin and Metcalf have actively sought their input as to an appropriate and acceptable route.

Banks is regional manager of Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, Inc.