August 23, 2019

Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials - Daily Leader Extra : State News

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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

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Posted: Monday, August 12, 2019 1:31 pm

Rapid City Journal, Aug. 9

Preserve charm of Sylvan Lake

An oval sapphire ringed by emerald flecks, silver spires and opaline sky, Sylvan Lake remains a Black Hills crown jewel 138 years after Theodore Reder dammed Sunday Gulch Creek to create it.

It needs help staying that way.

"The area is kind of being loved to death ... in terms of visitor capacity," Custer State Park visitor services program manager Kobee Stalder said recently.

On a typical summer day, arriving visitors encounter county fair-style parking — cars wedged into weeds and queues. Wedding chairs fill positions on the preferred postcard point. Fast walkers overcome the slow like Harleys around pokey Airstreams on worn and narrow lake pathways.

Officials worry about deteriorating water quality and lake silt. Increasing numbers of rock climbers scamper up and across nearby granite walls. A popular trailhead to Black Elk Peak has grown congested. Drones and helicopters frequently hover over Cathedral Spires. Limber pines have declined.

The state hired Wyss Associates of Rapid City for $78,500 to help compose an area master plan — last addressed 45 years ago.

At the initial meeting for the plan in June, park management set this over-riding goal: Sustain and improve the study area's natural resources without expanding visitor capacity.

Amen to that.

There's potential for this to go awry.

A hedge fund manager would probably create larger concessions and gift shops.

An engineer might note the parking shortages and build bigger lots. It's happened before.

A miser might raise the entrance price until only the wealthy can enjoy it.

A booking manager might require reservations.

An architect might design a grand entrance worthy of this natural jewel.

A state bent on enhancing tourism might do all of the above and then wonder why people reminisce about what was lost.

The new study and plan are overdue. The patient needs a checkup and updated recommendations. There's little knowledge about how visitors view their experience at the lake, whether locals avoid it during summer, whether Needles Highway is becoming gridlocked.

The first question should be: How many people can the area sustain indefinitely? The second: How do we design eventual replacement infrastructure to support this limit while discouraging overuse?

It's a small area that has reached maturity in terms of visitation. It needs no further development but rather preservation. Let's not throw away this jewel through misguided efforts to enhance it.

———

Madison Daily Leader, Aug. 5

We'll need to boost mental health pros

Health officials say years of alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Whiteclay, Nebraska, requires more doctors, psychologists and counselors to deal with the aftereffects.

It's a shortage that we're reading about in all sorts of places.

South Dakota's criminal justice system, in particular, is stressed because of a shortage of counselors to treat people whose crimes were either caused or worsened by drug and alcohol abuse.

South Dakota lawmakers have stated that diversion from the state prison system should start with substance addiction problems. But even if the framework is put in place and the money appropriated, trained workers are still needed to execute the strategy.

Separately, the Human Services Center in Yankton, the state's only public psychiatric hospital, has been plagued by a shortage of workers. The stress of the shortage may have contributed to the high turnover of administrators, with the latest resignation coming in May. The state is conducting its fourth search for the top position since 2011.

Even local law enforcement is feeling the shortage, as drug, alcohol and domestic violence sentences usually come with a required counseling component. The wait to meet with counselors can sometimes be long.

Ultimately, the state will need to work to recruit and train more mental health professionals. We may need to appropriate additional money for scholarships and incentives to bring new people into the field. We may have to provide additional compensation for working in underserved areas or in specialized fields.

We know this will all be expensive, but it is a critical field that needs attention. Our public safety depends on it.

———

Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Aug. 8

Spring flood woes won't recede soon

It's now terribly clear — with each passing day, with each new assessment — that the great flood year of 2019 is going to be the gift that keeps on giving.

And those gifts, at least in the short term, are going to be headaches, heartburn, hard choices, hard feelings and hard facts.

This week provided a small example of that, as both the Yankton City Commission and County Commission steered deeper into their respective annual budgeting processes. And this year, perhaps more than ever, the waters — an appropriate metaphor in this case — are murky, uncertain, mysterious.

The City Commission is working with the largest budget in its history — more than $71.5 million — thanks to a lot of big projects that are under way, but the wrath of the spring floods hangs over everything. The city alone sustained about $20 million of damage, including the destruction of a portion of the Auld-Brokaw Trail (which is not, it turns out, the "all broken trail" that many of us initially feared a few months ago). FEMA is on the case, but what that means in the eventual terms of dollars is still not known.

Alas, budget season cannot wait, and local governing bodies have to settle on their decisions now.

"Overall, this is the most certain uncertain budget that I've seen," said longtime City Commissioner Jake Hoffner during a budget meeting Tuesday night. "When I read through it, I thought, 'Wow, there's so many what-ifs.' What if FEMA doesn't pay a penny? What is our fail-safe plan in regards to that?"

Good questions, especially when those final budgetary answers must be determined before FEMA's decisions are even known.

It was also made clear during Tuesday's meeting that rebounding from the flood will not be a quick process, or even necessarily a complete process.

When Yankton City Manager Amy Leon was asked about the conditions and the progress of the Auld-Brokaw Trail — a flood mitigation instrument that is also a popular recreational amenity — she admitted that restoring the trail to its precise pre-flood condition is virtually impossible, since some portions of the land upon which the trail once crossed aren't even there anymore.

And, as for when the trail might be completely passable again, Leon admitted it "could take years."

Meanwhile, the county has its own set of problems and was facing budgetary issues even before the spring storms. But the flooding casts an inescapable pall over everything. The storms may have hit Yankton County harder than any county in South Dakota: It was estimated at one point that flooding may have damaged up to 75 percent of the county's roads, some of which weren't in great shape in the first place. Now, county commissioners are trying to figure out how to repair at least some of those roads while awaiting FEMA's plans, as well as try to do work on roads and bridges that needed work, pre-flood, anyway.

Among other things, commissioners are looking at cuts in their $15 million proposed budget. This could mean possible cuts to city-county entities such as The Center, the library and the Yankton County Historical Society.

On Tuesday night, supporters of those entities turned out in force at the county meeting to make their feelings known. And those impassioned feelings — as well as the tough choices that will be attached to them, one way or another — are also part of the fallout of the flooding and the uncertainty of FEMA's final decisions, which may be months away.

The flood damage plays into everything.

And so does the uncertainty.

The aftermath of the storms of spring is going to be with us for many, many seasons to come. Normal as we knew it may be gone for a very long time — or perhaps it has changed altogether. We're in rebuilding mode, and that will probably factor into a lot of budgetary questions in the Yankton area for the foreseeable future. And the answers may not be easy or painless for anyone.

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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