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Dunn County says battlefield study too big

By Lauren Donovan

KILLDEER, N.D. — The Dunn County Commission said it can’t support a study of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield in its present wide-angled scope, but left the door open for one on a smaller scale.

The study under the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program sets out a 17,000-acre area to be investigated for how and where the Civil War-era battle occurred. The study is being conducted now and over the next 18 months by the North Dakota State University Center for Heritage Renewal.

Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart said he made the motion Wednesday to get the county in front of any potential impact to its ability to develop roads or do other public work in the study area.

Center Director Tom Isern said the county’s alarm is “quite unwarranted.” He said the study will only provide a detailed scholarly accounting of “what happened and where. That’s it.”

Whether the battlefield area or some portion of it was to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places would be up to the National Park Service and only with support from private landowners, Isern said.

He said the Killdeer Mountain engagement of Plains Indians and the U.S. Army in 1864 was the largest military engagement on the Northern Plains. The National Park Service protection program has listed it as the era’s most at-risk battlefield, mainly because of encroaching oil development.

The study is already funded and underway, and Isern said the county’s support or lack of it is not necessary to its success.

Dukart said the county’s action didn’t close the door to future considerations. “Tom (Isern’s) got a right to defend what he’s done … but don’t try to propose 17,000 acres. I’m not against a very much smaller version of this,” he said.

Isern said the battlefield study has become entangled with Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s plans to build a new 345-kilovolt transmission line through the battlefield study area.

The planned line from Basin’s Antelope Valley Station near Beulah to the oil patch region is under environmental review by the federal Rural Utilities Service and the state Public Service Commission.

Isern said Killdeer Mountain landowners who oppose the study already have been paid for transmission line easements.

Basin has said it is out its easement investment if the route through the battlefield is rejected.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com

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