BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Native American tribes are consulting with an energy company on a proposed wind farm in southern North Dakota.
Leaders with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently worked with NextEra Energy to identify and protect cultural resources in an area where more than 120 wind turbines are proposed in Emmons and Logan counties, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The company reached out to five tribes and other stakeholders in the early stages of the 300-megawatt project, NextEra spokesman Steve Stengel said. He said working with the tribes helped the company avoid sensitive areas identified by tribe officials.
The efforts could serve as a model for other infrastructure projects, said Jon Eagle Sr., a Standing Rock Sioux official who recently worked with the company to identify sensitive areas.
"As tribal historic preservation officer, it's not my job to stop an undertaking. It's my job to protect the resources," Eagle said. "I enjoy my pickup, just like everybody else does. I enjoy our lights. We can do it in a more sensible way, a more respectful way, in a way that values all of our voices."
Standing Rock Sioux members spent months protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline, arguing the tribe wasn't adequately consulted on the project and the pipeline threatened sacred sites.
Eagle said he's seeing positive signs now that North Dakota regulators and the energy industry are putting in more effort to consult early with tribes. He said NextEra could be a model for other such projects.
"I really believe there's an opportunity for them to set the bar on what consultation with tribes should look like," Eagle said.
Stengel said the company's current approach is standard for NextEra and wasn't affected by the pipeline protests.
"Our philosophy and our practice is we reach out to all of the tribes and share information and ask them if they're interested in talking to us," he said. "It is in our best interest, as well as for the project and all stakeholders, to be as open and transparent as possible."
The wind farm project has yet to be proposed to the North Dakota Public Service Commission, but it's expected to begin in 2019.