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Letter to the editor: Basin Electric needs to propose alternative route

Like many North Dakotans, we too would like to know who knew what and when about the extent and importance of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site as this information relates to Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s proposed Antelope Valley to Neset transmission line.

We are concerned, however, that the current debate will distract from a more urgent concern — the legal requirements related to any project that requires government approval and desires federal subsidies. The proposed transmission line is such a project.

The laws in question are the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

The essence of these laws is that when our nation’s important historical, cultural or ecological values are impacted by a development project, several alternatives must be developed and proposed so concerned government agencies can weigh the benefits and costs of each alternative. The purpose of both laws is to ensure a final decision that is truly in the public interest and not just in the interest of the contractual parties.

The contractual parties in this case are the directly affected landowners and Basin Electric. Basin has bet on state and federal government approval of its plan and apparently already paid the landowners enough to cause most of them to accept the proposed transmission line route. This is not an adequate reason for the plan to be approved.

Unfortunately, either out of ignorance or contempt for the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act, Basin Electric has not even presented one alternative that avoids negative impacts to the Killdeer Mountain battlefield site, tribal cultural sites and ecologically important areas. Federal laws cannot be so readily dismissed.

Basin Electric must develop and propose at least one alternative route that avoids these impacts in order to better inform those who are charged by law to make decisions in the public interest. Without one or more such alternatives, it will be a long struggle to get this line constructed.

(Dickey, a former Army Corps of Engineers planner, represents the Killdeer Mountain Alliance in the federal review of the proposed power line that’s required under the National Historic Preservation Act.)