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Dunn County opposes study: Landowner accuses NDSU professor of incorrectly filling out application

MANNING, N.D. — The Dunn County Commission does not support North Dakota State University’s Killdeer Mountain battlefield study as presented.

Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to reject the document, which outlines the significance of a battle between Native American tribes and a troop of U.S. Cavalry in 1864. The study came out in August, days before Basin Electric Power Cooperative was set to have a Public Service Commission hearing in Killdeer on a transmission line. The proposed project, which would carry electricity from Basin’s Antelope Valley Station near Beulah to parts of western North Dakota, would pass through the study area for the battlefield.

The study characterizes the battlefield as the most significant historic site in the state.

Craig Dvirnak, a landowner whose property surrounds the existing state historic battlefield site, visited the commission to update it on his fight against the study and the possible historical designation that could come out of it.

Dvirnak said every nearby landowner he’s talked to is also against the study. He also alleged that NDSU professor Tom Isern, who applied for a National Park Service grant to fund the study, which could place some of the land on the National Register of Historic Places, didn’t correctly fill out the application he used to get federal funding in August.

But Isern said in an interview that Dvirnak simply misunderstands what was required by the application, and misunderstands the extent of the study area.

“I’m afraid the Dvirnak brothers have been intentionally misrepresenting this study,” Isern said. “My interpretation is we followed the guidelines of the National Park Service’s program, and that’s why they funded the proposal.”

But Dvirnak said the grant application was supposed to include the names of all landowners in the project area and did not.

“I was born and raised here. I know everybody that is in this project area,” he said. “When I show this grant application to other neighbors or other landowners in this project area, they’re looking at this and they’re saying the same thing: ‘What is it with this guy?’”

While Dvirnak said there was no transparency about the study, Isern said the study was well-known long before now. The professor tried to reach out to Dvirnak but the landowner was verbally abusive, he said, so he stopped trying.

Isern also said that because the study’s purpose is to determine the exact boundaries of the battlefield, not all landowners would be listed in the application.

Dvirnak said he wants to shut down the study.

He told commissioners he has reached out to the FBI office in Bismarck. He said an FBI representative told him there’s a chance for legal action if the grant included fraudulent information, such as the wrong landowner names.

FBI regional spokesman Kyle Loven said he can’t confirm or deny whether an investigation is taking place. Dvirnak didn’t want to expand on the FBI’s involvement because it’s ongoing, he said.

The Public Service Commission has yet to release its decision on Basin Electric’s project.