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Public comments heard on Little Mo. crossing alternatives

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A proposed Little Missouri River bridge in Billings County drew questions during a public meeting Tuesday.

Nearly 45 people gathered at the Kelly Inn in Bismarck to question eight options for the proposal, which would require road construction and a river crossing.

The project would connect U.S. Highway 85 to North Dakota Highway 16. Representatives with Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson were on hand to explain the list of alternatives that have been drawn up.

Six of the eight alternatives are located in Billings County. One is for McKenzie County and the final option is not to build anything.

Troy Ripplinger with KLJ said the road in each alternative would be a stretch of graveled county road. He said the road would be designed for a 35 mph speed limit.

Wade Frank, a bridge engineer with KLJ, said depending on which option is chosen, the bridge would span between 600 and 1,200 feet.

"At this stage in the development we're not going very far in the (bridge) development," Frank said.

Frank said once the alternatives are narrowed down more will be done with the specific bridge design for the river crossing.

Information from KLJ said:

+ Alternative A would require 10.7 miles of new road construction. It would run north of the Elkhorn Ranchlands connecting Magpie Creek Road and Forest Highway 2.

+ Alternative B would connect Blacktail Road and Forest Highway 2 and require 10.1 miles of new road.

+ Alternative C would connect Blacktail Road and Belle Lake Road and require 8.3 miles of new road.

Both Alternative B and Alternative C would pass through the Elkhorn Ranchlands, something of serious concern to Valerie Naylor, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The ranch area was where Theodore Roosevelt raised cattle.

"That's a very important place to us," Naylor said. "We must protect the Elkhorn Ranch portion of Theodore Roosevelt National Park at all costs."

She said the area has been protected for decades and holds historical significance. Naylor said Alternatives B and C weren't options.

Jeb Williams of Bismarck questioned Alternative K, which has three different options. He said the three options of Alternative K run through the Short Ranch, owned by family members. Each of the three options would connect East River Road and Belle Lake Road.

Williams said landowners and ranchers in western North Dakota understand the situation of rapid growth and oil production in the region.

"But is there really a need?" Williams said.

Jan Swenson with the Badlands Conservation Alliance also questioned the need.

"I don't think the industry will recover even one less penny (in revenue) if there is no crossing of the Little Missouri River," Swenson said.

KLJ project manager Jennifer Turnbow said the company was contracted by Billings County to begin working on the project. The next public meeting to take comments is at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Medora Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Tentative plans call for having a generic draft prepared by January 2013 and public hearings held in June 2013. The benchmark for having a final plan is in November or December 2013.

Comments are being accepted through June 22. They can be submitted by mail to Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, Jennifer Turnbow, Project Manager, 128 Soo Line Drive, Bismarck, N.D. 58501 or by email to jennifer.turnbow@ kljeng.com.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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