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Demonstration shows Davis Refinery won't be visible from Theodore Roosevelt National Park

THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK--If seeing is believing, it was clear as day that a process stack from a proposed oil refinery near Fryburg would not be visible from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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Adam Williams, communications specialist for Meridian Energy Group, scans the horizon in his company's demonstration to show its refinery process stack would not be visible from the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Park ranger Ian Connors is in the background. (CREDIT: Lauren Donovan, Bismarck Tribune)
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THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK-If seeing is believing, it was clear as day that a process stack from a proposed oil refinery near Fryburg would not be visible from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Meridian Energy Group put up an 11-foot- wide kite late Tuesday afternoon at the location and height of the stack, and members of the public were invited to climb Buck Hill-the highest observation point in the national park-to take a look. The distance, as the crow flies, was roughly 7 miles. The bright-red kite wasn't visible, even with binoculars.

Meridian folks were on hand to point out exactly where on the horizon to look for the kite floating 150 feet in the air. When no one could see it, the kite crew raised it an additional 100 feet. At that height, with clouds in the backdrop for contrast, the kite became faintly visible to a few observers.

Dan Hedrington, senior project manager for the proposed Davis Refinery, said the exercise was

intended to answer worries that the refinery stack would impair the popular view of the Badlands.

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He said Buck Hill is the only location in the park with a direct sight line to the planned refinery. But planners believed the distance and the slender profile-about 10 feet in diameter-of the stack would render it invisible from that point.

"We wanted to show that the information we're providing is honest and truthful, and we thought it was best for people to come and see for themselves," he said. "It's so far away, you can't see it with your eyes or field glasses."

About 20 people attended the demonstration, mixing in with tourist families taking in the popular spot on the park's loop tour.

Mary Abrahamson, of Medora, used a spotting scope to look toward the horizon and said she couldn't see the kite or its 35-foot- long tail.

"I was curious. You can see Interstate 94 anyway from here-isn't that visible pollution?" she asked.

Tom Kessel, of Belfield, said he came to the demonstration because he thought it was a pro-refinery rally. "I love it," he said of the proposed 55,000 barrel-per- day refinery that would convert Bakken crude into gasoline, jet fuel and lubricants.

Raymond Kessel, of rural Billings County, said he walked up Buck Hill to see if a person would be able to see the stack, "which apparently you can't. You can see the water tower and the cell tower."

Wally Owen, of Medora, said he supports the project, but not the location so close to the park. Buck Hill is in the interior of the park, and the refinery would be less than 3 miles from the park's eastern boundary. Owen said he couldn't see the kite and concluded: "If this is the fight, then we should move on."

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The refinery is not yet cleared for local zoning, though the company's website says it's still on track for a 2016 groundbreaking. The Billings County Commission has a recommendation from its zoning board to approve zoning for the 700-acre site, but has held off for two months to bring more information to the table.

On Wednesday, the county will hear from the State Health Department on the refinery's proposed air quality permit and waste management issues. The proximity to the national park puts the refinery within reach of the park's Class I air standard, which is the most stringent for pollutants.

The refinery owners have not yet submitted an air quality permit application.

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