|The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.
Theodora Bird Bear
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard
Bird Bear, Brave Bull decry scheme
Killdeer power lines would cross sacred site
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Health and Environment Editor
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Officials and activists are encouraging more public input on updated draft plans for new power lines that would cross the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield area and sacred Tahca WaKutepi Paha site, after tribal members decried the scheme at a hearing here Jan. 16.
The high-voltage line expansion is to meet the snowballing estimates of electricity demand created by the oil boom in the Bakken Shale Formation, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), now being supplemented to address two proposed 345-kV transmission lines in place of the one originally slated.
The hearing and further input are destined to result in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement determining or denying Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s proposed line routes through some 278-miles of western North Dakota -- from Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, through Williston, to Neset Transmission Project near Tioga.
“The major problem with the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement is that it develops no alternative that would avoid constructing eight miles of transmission lines though the heart of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield,” Standing Rock Tribal Tourism Director LaDonna Brave Bull Allard testified at the hearing.
She called for postponement of the permit process “until a full archeological survey is completed by archeologists and our native monitors to define the border of the site.”
Basin Electric said the proposed lines do not run through the designated historic site, only through an area proposed for future historic and cultural preservation study.
The National Parks Service American Battlefield Protection Program recently awarded two grants to the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University for historical research, archeological surveys, and digital mapping of Killdeer Mountain Battlefield and associated sites.
However, several landowners have not authorized the university access to conduct field studies, and “it is doubtful if either study will be completed before the anticipated publication of the Final EIS,” according to the draft supplemental statement.
“The study area is private property, and the landowners are very concerned about the study proposal. They've been very respectful of the area, donating artifacts to local museums,” Basin said in writing.
Nonetheless, Article 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires government-to-government consultation between the feds and the tribes on any land involving federal funding, and Basin is requesting money from the U.S. Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to build the lines.
Basin’s preferred transmission route would run through 27 miles of private property in the study site.
The draft supplemental EIS notes that the consultations have not been concluded. Surveys to date have identified 286 cultural sites that may be damaged or destroyed within a “preliminary” 1,000-foot impact area.
The Killdeer Mountains are historically important to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations, represented by the Three Affiliated Tribes on Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation just east of the proposed line routes, Theodora Bird Bear noted in testimony.
“Basin Electric wants to transmit their coal-generated electricity to the fossil-fuel-wasting oilfield through the proposed transmission line, which will impact Three Affiliated Tribes' cultural sites, the human remains of Lakota warriors, women, and children -- and also existing wildlife, Bird Bear said.
“This proposed federally-funded project is primarily to benefit the unregulated oil industry in western North Dakota. Instead of using the extracted and already-existing natural gas to power the oil drilling and fracking, the industry is wasting the natural gas by flaring it off into the air,” she added.
In addressing environmental justice, the draft concludes that minority populations in the project area would not experience “disproportionate adverse impacts” from it. In fact, drafters say, “It is anticipated to contribute positively to potential environmental justice communities through additional fiscal receipts to counties.”
Among several Native American women who testified, Bird Bear complained that “the federally-required complete cultural survey isn't even finished for this project. Yet, a formal determination has already been made that there will be no disproportionate or cumulative adverse impacts on minority and/or low-income communities, including tribes and tribal members. This is wrong,” she said.
McKenzie Electric Cooperative CEO and General Manager John Skurupey said the new power lines could actually protect area communities from losing their electricity to the oilfield operations.
“Without this additional north Killdeer loop, members who may want additional electricity, or new members wanting electricity at a new home site, water well or commercial location will eventually be refused service for the sake of keeping the lights on for those who are currently being served,” Skurupey testified.
“This is not a futuristic prediction but rather a road we’re traveling and a stop sign we’re already slowing down for,” he said.
McKenzie Electric Cooperative, one of dozens of coops that make up Basin, will be in charge of the new power lines, if they are approved and funded by the Agriculture Department.
According to the draft, oil extraction activities in the Bakken Shale Formation in the Basin service area are concentrated in McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties.
“The level of development that has occurred and is planned for the future will require numerous infrastructure upgrades throughout the region, including an increase in electrical transmission capacity and reliability,” it states.
Brave Bull Allard testified that even more planning for the future is warranted before permit decisions are made at Killdeer and related historical sites.
“We need to be thinking of the future generations as we look at these sites, there is more for us to learn about the land and the history it hides within. We as Native people and Americans are just now understanding these sites and what really happened at this site.
“I am speaking for my relatives Red Thunder, Bear Face, Iron Horn, and Rain in the Face, Shaved Head, Little Bear, and my Ihunktonwana relatives who fought here at Kill Deer. They lived, fought, prayed and died and were buried at this sacred site for many generations.
“The Tahca WaKutepi Paha -- Killdeer Mountain -- this site -- was known as a prayer and ceremony site before the Great Battle of Kill Deer Mountain.
“The Killdeer Mountain Battle is the most important America’s Civil War battle in North Dakota,” she added.
About 20 people attended the hearing.
Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service has invited the following tribes to Section 106 consultation: Flandreau Santee Sioux, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Prairie Island Indian Community, Santee Sioux Nation, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Three Affiliated Tribes, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Upper Sioux Indian Community, and White Earth Nation.
The draft supplemental EIS is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov/UWP-AVS-Neset.html
The deadline for public comment is Feb. 3. Written comments can be directed to Dennis Rankin at email@example.com or at Environmental Protection Specialist, USDA, Rural Utilities Service, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Stop 1571, Washington, D.C. 20250-1571.
(Contact Talli Nauman, NSN Health and Environment Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org)