BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota regulators on Wednesday approved a permit for a proposed $375 million high-voltage power line that would run through the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, a site in the western part of the state where a battle between U.S. Army soldiers and American Indians occurred in 1864.
Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative wants to build the 197-mile line from its Antelope Valley Station power plant near Beulah to a substation near Tioga to deliver more electricity to communities in western North Dakota’s oil patch, where there is a growing demand for power. Several American Indian tribes, historians and others have objected to the company’s plan.
The three-member Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in North Dakota, unanimously endorsed the proposal Wednesday after several months of review and public comments.
“I think the process has been very thorough and I think we’ve worked hard to minimize impacts,” commissioner Julie Fedorchak said.
The proposed project also needs federal approval because the route goes through U.S. Forest Service grasslands and because the company plans to seek financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It’s not like after today’s vote they’re done,” Commissioner Brian Kalk said. “The requirements we have jurisdiction on have been met.”
The commission, all of whom are Republicans, emphasized the need for additional electric power in western North Dakota to keep pace with the region’s exploding development spurred by oil activity.
“This project will literally be a life preserver for that region, keeping lights, furnaces and air conditioners running when needed,” commissioner Randy Christmann said.
“I think it’s really important for all of us to remember that this region is one of the fastest-growing regions in the whole country,” Fedorchak said. She added that huge investments in businesses, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure have been made or are planned for the region and “all of that will be for naught without power infrastructure to support it.”
Five American Indian tribes in North Dakota passed a resolution last year formally opposing the project. The United Tribes’ resolution said the project could disturb the remains of native people killed by the U.S. Army 150 years ago and buried along an eight-mile stretch.
Historians say during the one-day battle with Sioux warriors, Gen. Alfred Sully’s troops essentially formed a giant square with thousands of soldiers on the outside and horses and artillery on the inside. The group marched across the prairie toward Killdeer Mountain and the Dakota village, where U.S. soldiers destroyed tepees, belongings and the winter food supply.
“The history of the Native Nations is filled with places of overwhelming sacred and cultural significance, with many places being identified only by a few persons, including places of overwhelming grief and tragedy,” the resolution said.
Basin spokesman Curt Pearson said in an interview that the company hired an archaeology firm to survey the area “and found nothing of consequence along a 150-foot right of way” in the battlefield area.
Pearson said the company hopes to have federal permits approved this summer. He said construction would begin in the fall with completion slated for 2017.