BCA Accomplishments for 2018
A few of the Badlands Conservation Alliance Accomplishments for 2018
BCA held its 2017 Annual Meeting in Bismarck the evening of October 22. Thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Church for sharing their community space for our event.
Our evening’s speaker was Jay Clemens, conservationist and owner of the Badlands ranch immediately adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the US Forest Service-managed Elkhorn Ranchlands. Jay’s persistent work to protect not only his own property but the viewshed of these significant public lands is labor intensive, most admirable and benefits us all. Thank you, Jay!
It was particularly gratifying to hear Clemens acknowledge BCA’s work as “…punching way above your weight class.” We’ll take that! Thanks.
Laura Anhalt and Lynn Morgenson were elected to their second BCA Board terms and all welcomed new Board Director Eve Suchy. Retiring Board Director Rich Brauhn was recognized for his exceptional contributions as long-time Board Secretary and editor of BCA’s newsletter.
Special thanks to Carl & Bev, Rich, Bonnie, Corinne, Laura, Christine, Graham and Kelsey for help with set-up and tear-down. Your contribution played a major role in making for a successful and enjoyable gathering.
Held this year the weekend of March 10 and 11, the annual BCA Board Retreat took place at the Dewhirst family’s Lone Butte Ranch. Lone Butte inventoried roadless area is managed by the USFS as Backcountry Recreational Non-motorized and lies southeast of TRNP, east of HWY 85 and south of the Little Missouri River.
Always an intense couple days, the Board focused discussion and set priorities on policy, financials, issues, membership, and all the necessities, pleasures and demands of running a conservation organization. A tight budget made fund-raising and membership building rise to the top of our list.
Officers were elected: Christine Hogan, president; Laura Anhalt, vice president; Lynn Morgenson, secretary and Lillian Crook, treasurer. Committee assignments were made: Education, Tama Smith as chair; Funding and Development, Connie Triplett as chair; Communications, Laura Anhalt as chair. Members at large are always encouraged to get in touch as you see yourselves adding to effectiveness of committee work!
The BCA Board met April 21 in Medora following BCA’s work day at Cottonwood Campground to revisit pressing funding issues and strategize future actions. Throughout the year the Board communicates via email and phone.
Red Oak House mates Lillian Crook and Jim Fuglie have taken over editorship of BCA’s Wild Badlands newsletter. Both writers in the blog-world, BCA founder Lillian authors Wild Dakota Woman, and Badlands issues are a common topic of Fuglie’s The Prairie Blog.
Thanks to Graham Swenson for BCA’s webpage: a behind the scenes job that dramatically shapes the out-front public image of BCA. His web work for the public release of our documentary Keeping All the Pieces was exceptional. Lillian Crook keeps us in the Twitter flow and “Friends” will continue to find us on Facebook.
Communications chair Laura Anhalt is recognized for faithfully getting thank yous out to our membership. Laura and husband Tracy scripted BCA public service announcements for airing in Bismarck and the Red River Valley.
Thank you to Funding and Development chair Connie Triplett and her committee including Eve Suchy, Tom Dahle and Christine Hogan for their persistent funding search, membership appeal letters and handling of this year’s first-ever silent auction at our annual meeting.
BCA must extend an enormous THANK YOU to the North Dakota Wildlife Federation for a $30,000 grant received in early May of 2018. NDWF generally focuses on their own projects and conservation efforts, so this was out of the ordinary - while being hugely gratifying for BCA. Our collaboration with the Federation on Keeping All the Pieces gave NDWF an idea of what BCA does for the larger conservation community and allowed for this substantial grant assistance, but BCA friends and champions Al Sapa and Mike McEnroe had a great deal to do with bringing it to reality. THANK YOU, Mike, Al and NDWF!
BCA membership contributions are essential to help us match this NDWF grant, so your generosity is needed and deeply appreciated. North Dakota remains outside the interest area of many large national and regional foundations, so it is ultimately up to us to retain our independent Voice for Wild ND Places.
BCA held outings (see separate stories on two of these):
Work Day for Earth Day at Cottonwood Campground – Saturday, April 21, 2018
Equipped with work gloves, steel brushes and trash bags, BCA members cleaned fire grates, picked up litter, removed fallen branches and otherwise got Cottonwood Campground ready for an influx of Park visitors. It was an easy assignment compared to some previous BCA workdays when we have chiseled graffiti or painted picnic tables, but provided us with appreciation for camp-user ethics and the respect shown by Park visitors for our favorite National Park.
It also allowed us plenty of time to surprise BCA pal and supporter Bart Koehler with a birthday cake and chorus. Bart and Julie were making their way from winter residence in Florida to home base in Juneau, Alaska, an ambitious road trip. Both are long time Wilderness advocates and Bart was integral to BCA’s early years when he worked for The Wilderness Society. They are special friends and we thank them for making the extra effort to join us!
After an out-of-the-blue and much appreciated invitation from Donald Ross, BCA followed up our grant submission with Tortuga’s Kay Bromberg and a request for BCA press quotes. We sent her several, but then whittled them down to two that represent our largely twofold mission. Our e-note said :
First, we are very vigilant and detail oriented in monitoring oil and gas development in the Badlands - water, air quality, habitat fragmentation, regulatory policy, etc. Sometimes this involves shaping better ways of "doing business," sometimes it is straight-forward opposition to a proposed project.
Second, education of the public, state leadership, regulatory bodies, industry itself, other organizations, etc. is a priority that consistently underlies our work. We choose not simply to be viewed as naysayers but as a reputable catalyst for more comprehensive regulation and planning to insure the integrity of the Badlands and indeed the State's future.
Let’s start with the second, education. For nearly two years, Mike McEnroe for the ND Wildlife Federation and Jan Swenson for BCA traveled statewide presenting Keeping All the Pieces, a 15-minute documentary about the threats of oil and gas development to our Badlands and how ND might more aptly shoulder its responsibilities. Equally a part of the over 30 presentations given was the citizen conversation we invited.
In early 2018 we officially released Keeping All the Pieces, holding a press conference in Bismarck on February 1st and following up with statewide press coverage, social media, announcement to ND’s legislative members, communications with state, regional and the national conservation community, and hand delivered packets to ND’s Congressionals and the Governor. KAP remains available on Community Access Television, YouTube and BCA’s website. Materials originally prepared as handouts for presentations were re-crafted for inclusion on our webpage.
We continue to get requests for follow-up presentations and BCA vice-president Laura Anhalt will be doing a guest interview on Prairie Public TV’s Prairie Pulse in the near future. We will share air-time when we have it!
KAP was presented at the National Wildlife Federation’s annual meeting in Virginia in June and to the Great Lakes Writers Conference in September. In January of 2018 McEnroe and Swenson received the Communicator’s Award of the Year from the ND Wildlife Federation for their work on KAP. Equally deserving of recognition are KAP team members Al Sapa, David Swenson and Graham Swenson.
North Dakota has experienced a year of rising activity in western ND oil fields. Ever improving technology has allowed for increasing activity even without the kind of prices we saw in Boom times. Improvements to infrastructure have brought notable moderation to transportation systems and communities; but creeping, and sometimes abrupt, development continues to envelop western North Dakota’s previously rural nature and neck in on remaining wild lands.
While spring and summer in ND generally mean a sweet return to the great outdoors, 2018 brought instead a full court press for conservation advocates. BCA and their allies found themselves facing down both new and longtime controversial projects impacting the Badlands, spending too much time indoors reading environmental impact statements, air quality documents, etc. while also attending public hearings and crafting comment letters.
So be the life of conservation advocates! Each and every one of you that sacrificed some part of your warm season pleasures deserves a pat on the back!
The proposed expansion of HWY 85 to a four lane divided highway raised its head in late October of 2017 with a Stakeholders Meeting in Fairfield where representatives of interest groups got a glimpse of what was to come.
The ND Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, lead agencies for the proposed project, released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement through engineering consultant KLJ in early May. Public hearings followed in Belfield, Fairfield and Watford City on May 29th, 30th and 31st, respectively. BCA staff and members showed up at all three.
Our concern remains with the 7 miles stretch through the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley where we support safety improvements and construction of a new Long X Bridge but oppose the impacts associated with the proposed four lane divided highway.
In written comments BCA opposed the “Build” alternative on grounds of unsubstantiated safety data, our strongly held position that there IS Section 4(f) constructive use of the greater body of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and that it needs be acknowledged in the DEIS. Furthermore, mitigation strategies for said constructive use should be required in a substantial, physical and meaningful way that promotes protection of the integrity of the Park, as well as USFS roadless areas in the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley, and inadequacies in project noise analysis that does not fully account for low frequency impacts within Park boundaries. Furthermore, we grievously protest that there are no major unresolved issues associated with the project as claimed on page ES-16 of the Executive Summary.
The DEIS schedule suggests that the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision may appear as soon as Fall 2018. BCA has our doubts, but we will be watching! More public input will be required.
Meridian Energy Group’s proposed Davis Refinery within 3 miles of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park continues to rankle opponents of the proposed site location. ND’s siloing of permitting processes continues to allow this project to move forward.
The ND Department of Health held a well-attended January 17th Dickinson public hearing on their draft Air Pollution Control Permit to Construct. BCA testified at hearing and joined the many others who submitted written comments. Despite the considerable opposition, DOH approved the permit in June 2018.
The ND Public Service Commission, having the jurisdiction to require a more over-arching site review on refinery capacities over 50,000 barrels per day, has been vocal in pushing Meridian to come in voluntarily, including an informal December 2017 PSC meeting where Commissioners made their wishes decidedly clear. Meridian declined.
Responding to pressure, but with DOH permit in hand, Meridian announced their most recent change in plans by stating a one time build capacity of 49,500 BPD rather than the two smaller stages previously claimed.
Drawing ire, Meridian’s strategy to slip under the wire has prompted lawsuits and appeals. A National Parks Conservation Association appeal was filed on the ND DOH air quality analysis. The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council have filed a formal joint complaint with the Public Service Commission. The PSC submitted the complaint to an administrative law judge who recommended to dismiss and now the PSC has declined to assume jurisdiction.
BCA has found Meridian lacking in integrity in both their siting and business practices from the beginning. We continue to support all efforts to stop a refinery next to our singular Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We will keep members updated on all opportunities to oppose this proposed refinery.
Our third major effort for the summer of 2018 centered on Billings County’s proposed bridge crossing of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. The current rendition began in 2006 with a Notice of Intent. A revised Notice of Intent was published in 2010 and Alternative Workshops were held in 2012. In between all this were scoping meetings, an earlier alternatives workshop, several opportunities for written comments and BCA outings to familiarize with impacted locations.
While we did quite dramatically succeed in removing alternatives through the newly acquired Elkhorn Ranchlands and directly impacting the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of TRNP, BCA’s standing position has been support of the No Build alternative in order to protect the ecological integrity and values of the Badlands and Little Missouri River valley.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement came out in mid-June of 2018. Public hearings followed in Medora on July 23rd and Bismarck on July 26th. Supporters were largely associated with Billings County governance with claimed “need” based on safety, emergency response and, believe it or not, tourism.
The preferred alternative is routed through the historic Short Ranch on private land. The family opposes the bridge. Should the county pursue this proposal, it is likely that eminent domain will need to be used to acquire the private lands.
BCA holds that oil and gas development already approved by the ND Industrial Commission is the more actual “need” for the proposed bridge. Because BCA vigilantly monitors and testifies as needed at monthly ND Oil and Gas Division hearings, we could state without hesitations:
A single company has applied for and received official North Dakota Oil and Gas Division orders for at least 76 NEW wells. From the Bismarck Tribune dated October 10, 2017: Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Oil and Gas Division, said she estimates NP Resources has about 76 proposed wells in the orders approved that would be near the Little Missouri. On the Oil and Gas Division hearing docket for August 23, 2018 are an additional three NP Resources cases potentially authorizing 44 additional wells in this same vicinity. NP Resources is not the only company active in the area.
While the ND Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are partners with Billings County in the NEPA process, their collaboration is largely based on the potential for acquiring state and federal dollars. Federal funds funnel to the state, with the state itself making the final decision. Should ND, and essentially the Governor, determine that this project is not the best use of taxpayer dollars, Billings County has stated they will find the funds elsewhere, either “building it themselves” or securing “other sources.” Such a proposal could result in future profusion of bridge crossings of the Little Missouri for the purpose of aiding industrial development, another reason to oppose this bridge.
BCA testified at the recent Medora and Bismarck hearings and submitted written comments, as an organization and as individuals.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement and Decision may appear as early as fall or winter of 2018, when we will have another opportunity to lay this one down. Watch for updates!
After a nearly 10 year hiatus during the Hoeven and Dalrymple administrations, Governor Burgum reinstated the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission mid-year of 2017 with meetings taking place in October 2017, June 2018 and August 2018. It is BCA’s position that the commission has a big learning curve ahead if they are to play any significant role in protecting the Little Missouri River. Thus far, county representatives have largely tended toward the economic development end of the spectrum, representing fiscal interests of their individual counties (Dunn, McKenzie, Billings, Golden Valley, Slope, Bowman) rather than the river itself. State agency participation has not been much better with the exception of a steady hand in ND Parks and Recreation.
Language of the Little Missouri Scenic River Act is ambiguous and even conflicting in places which does not help, and needs to be remedied. BCA attends Commission meetings and we give due credit to the Commission’s willingness to hear from public participants. Public pressure is key. Time will tell.
You may keep abreast of Commission meetings and minutes at the ND Parks and Rec webpage.
As producing wells increase in western North Dakota (the most current monthly report states
12,992 for the Bakken-Three Forks and 1,980 for legacy conventional pools), not only does the oil produced beat records, but likewise natural gas. ND Industrial Commission goals for natural gas capture rise from 85% to 88% on November 1, 2018 and the industry will have trouble making it. Latest statistics showed statewide capture was 82% in September.
Despite eight additional gas plants under construction or recently completed, and industry investment of over $1.5 Billion, production is expected to continue to top future capacity. Changes to NDIC policy, temporary underground storage, continued expansion of infrastructure, in-state value-added processing plants (like fertilizer and plastics), and increased workforce availability are all areas being looked to for solutions.
In faithfully attending NDIC meetings, relevant oil and gas hearings and otherwise monitoring agency and industry actions, BCA remains informed. BCA shares little sympathy for what the NDIC identifies as industry “challenges.” We remain the only conservation organization attending NDIC meetings and join Theodore Roosevelt National Park as the only consistent natural resource entities appearing at monthly oil and gas hearings.
The Dakota Prairie Grasslands Oil and Gas Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and an updated Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario has been released. We will keep you posted on opportunities for public comment.
The first Tuesday of each month the Elkhorn Ranch Coalition shares issues, updates and planning strategies focusing on the Elkhorn Ranch, the Elkhorn Ranchlands, and the Elkhorn Ranchlands Historic District. Nearly 20 individuals and organizations are represented. Our annual face-to-face meeting took place in Bismarck on October 24, 2018.
A new and separate segment of the gathering will focus on Greater Badlands issues, both ecological and issue specific. It is an addition BCA has encouraged as essential to broader advocacy and problem solving.
BCA efforts more frequently involve USFS actions than Bureau of Land Management as the BLM owns a limited amount of surface acreage in the Badlands. 2018 was different, however, in that two very specific cases came to our attention.
First, announcement of a proposed BLM mineral lease sale located immediately adjacent to the North Unit of TRNP arose in August 2017. We and our conservation allies made public and
protested the sale slated for March of 2018. Wisely, the BLM withdrew the parcel.
Credit to Jim Fuglie and his The Prairie Blog, the public became aware of a privately owned bridge crossing of the Little Missouri River in Dunn County. Built and in use, one end trespassed on BLM land – a scenario of which the BLM was totally unaware.
Fuglie’s persistent attention resulted in BLM’s pursuing a required, and now after-the-fact, Environmental Assessment, calling for public input in July of 2018 as to how this “Bice Bridge” situation should be resolved. BCA will keep you informed of future opportunities to be involved.
Bits and pieces:
** BCA on alert in the Southern Badlands:
The oil and gas industry has determined that proppants (sand or ceramic beads) used to keep ajar cracks created by fracking may not need to be the high quality they first estimated, and the ND Geological Survey is searching for nearer, cheaper sources of sand, including exposed formations in the Badlands.
The importance of rare earth elements used in modern technology, whether your personal cell phone or national defense purposes, has prompted NDGS analysis of Badlands coal seams with which rare earths are associated. The numbers are coming out especially good if you are industry. The Ponderosa Pine area appears to be of particular interest.
Southwestern Production Corp. holds permits to start drilling private minerals in the Tracy Mountain vicinity and immediately adjacent to Kendley Plateau Suitable for Wilderness. They are targeting the Tyler Formation.
** BCA met in Fargo with conservationist and author Lansing Shepard for a Badlands conversation. Threatening late February skies changed to blizzard as participants returned home to Minneapolis and others to points west. Still, a pleasure. Thanks, Lansing!
**BCA staff represents our organization at many meetings and gatherings over the course of a year. There are always some that rise to the top. This year kudos go to the two Conservation Summits organized by the ND Wildlife Federation, and to the National Environmental Policy Act Workshop hosted in New Town by P.O.W.E.R. and at the invitation of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Again by invitation, BCA attended the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands and participated in a USFS stakeholder gathering to help the agency determine the meaning and value of conservation. We would not miss the ND Chapter of the Wildlife Society annual meeting for its opportunities to bump elbows with the state’s professional natural resource managers and meet the new crop of university students in that field. There are always standouts, assuring well-educated future leadership.
**Perhaps the nicest thing BCA heard all year was that BCA’s phone number remains next to Con Short’s chair. Con, patriarch of the Short Family and long time no-nonsense opponent of any Billings County bridge crossing of the Little Missouri Scenic River, passed two years ago. We’re doing our best, Con!
As always, ever onward…