The cost of free land and either-or history

Some white South Dakotans love to talk about their generational connection to the land. I’m one of them: a proud, fifth-generation descendant of Dakota Territory homesteaders.

The federal government awarded nearly 100,000 parcels of free land to South Dakota settlers via the 1862 Homestead Act and successive rounds of related legislation. Modern South Dakotans celebrate that legacy in myriad ways, including an annual State Fair ceremony honoring farms and ranches owned by the same family for 10

$1.5 billion of construction planned for new bombers at Ellsworth

RAPID CITY — The Air Force will spend $1.5 billion on 35 construction projects to accommodate new bomber planes at a base near Rapid City, according to the base commander.

Nine projects are underway, said Col. Derek Oakley, who leads the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base. He spoke Friday to the Black Hills Forum and Press Club.

“If you see an airman downtown, pat them on the back and tell them you’ve got their back, because they’re tired,” Oakley said. “There’s a lot going on right no

Congressman preaches civility to hundreds of high school students

Members of the other political party aren’t evil, journalists aren’t the enemy, and watching a lot of cable TV news isn’t a good idea.

That’s a sampling of comments Monday from U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, who hosted his inaugural Level Up Youth Conference at Western Dakota Technical College in Rapid City. Hundreds of students attended from local and area high schools.

Johnson is fresh off a bruising several weeks in Washington, D.C., where the House of Representatives ousted its s

Forest Service floats fee increase as latest response to Black Hills UTV surge

There was a time years ago when Travis Bies didn’t worry as much about cattle escaping his Black Hills pastures.

“Every Monday, you had to be there and check your gates to make sure they were closed,” Bies said. “Now, I’ve had to hire a full-time person to be there every day.”

That’s because so many more people are driving utility task vehicles — known as UTVs, or as “side-by-sides” due to their multiple seats — and are failing to close the gates they open.

Escaped cattle are one impact from

Navigator cancels its carbon pipeline project

A company that sought to build a $3 billion carbon sequestration pipeline in South Dakota and several other states announced Friday that it’s giving up on the plan.

“Given the unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes involved, particularly in South Dakota and Iowa, the Company has decided to cancel its pipeline project,” said a news release from Navigator CO2.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission unanimously denied a permit for Navigator’s Heartland Greenway proj

Proposed bentonite mine takes next step; Homestake bond raised

A state board approved a step forward for a proposed bentonite mine and increased the required bond amount to protect the state from expenses related to a closed gold mine.

The Board of Minerals and Environment, consisting of nine members appointed by the governor, met in a telephone conference on Thursday.

Texas-based Bentonite Performance Minerals won approval of its contractor for a required socioeconomic assessment of the effects of the company’s proposed bentonite mine. The contractor is

State breaks ground on $60 million women’s prison in Rapid City

RAPID CITY — While controversy continues over the site of a proposed new penitentiary near Sioux Falls, the state Department of Corrections is proceeding with a plan to build a new women’s prison on the other side of South Dakota.

State officials broke ground for the women’s prison Monday in Rapid City.

“I’m very happy to be here today and very proud of the work and the collaboration that has been happening over the course of the last six months,” said Kellie Wasko, state corrections secretary

Noem-Lewandowski relationship doesn't have to be an affair to be inappropriate

After reporting that Gov. Kristi Noem is allegedly having an extramarital affair, Ken Silverstein suffered a memory lapse.

It happened on the Dakota Town Hall podcast. The hosts wanted to know if Silverstein’s Sept. 15 story about Noem was his first about South Dakota politics.

Silverstein struggled with his answer — “I don’t think that’s possible, because I honestly feel like I’ve covered …” — until one of the hosts interrupted. The host suggested Silverstein had probably written about former

Regents request control of whistleblower hotline; Noem says 'no planned changes'

RAPID CITY — The board that oversees South Dakota’s public universities has requested control over the governor’s whistleblower hotline for higher education, but the Governor’s Office said there are “no planned changes.”

News of the request came from Jeff Partridge, a member of the Board of Regents, during a meeting Thursday on the South Dakota Mines campus in Rapid City.

“We’re hoping that will be heard and received as far as us taking that over in the near future,” he said.

Gov. Kristi Noem

How two dead South Dakotans continue to feed the world

There are politicians who spend their entire careers pursuing power and fame, and there are others who set aside those ambitions long enough to make a lasting difference.

A reminder of that truism arrived recently in the form of a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The release said the department is awarding a combined $455 million of funding through two international food initiatives: Food for Progress, and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrit

Jury awards $400,000 in Black Hills National Forest gender discrimination case

A jury awarded $400,000 in damages Saturday to a former Black Hills National Forest district ranger in her discrimination case against the federal government.

The verdict came after a week-long trial in federal court at Rapid City.

The jury found in favor of Ruth Esperance’s claim that she suffered gender discrimination. The jury also found that the Forest Service had not proven Esperance would’ve been reassigned to a different job regardless of her gender.

Esperance was the ranger of the Bla

New approach needed as Forest Service fumbles on Black Hills leadership

When I reported back in May that the Black Hills National Forest was on its eighth supervisor in seven years, I made it sound like that was a lot of turnover.

Since then, there have been two more supervisors.

That brings the tally to 10 in the past seven years, and five this year alone.

The current year’s turnover began in the spring with the departure of Jeff Tomac, who was the last person to hold the job without an “acting” tag. He’s been followed in rapid succession by Acting Supervisors B

Trump rally highlights Republican division with booing of absent Thune, Rounds, Johnson

RAPID CITY — A Friday event intended to rally the South Dakota Republican Party around Donald Trump’s visit to the state instead showcased division at the party’s highest levels.

The state’s all-Republican, three-member congressional delegation — Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Rep. Dusty Johnson — did not attend the event in the ice arena at The Monument. Their absence was loudly noted several times by a crowd of about 7,000.

Gov. Kristi Noem took what some in the audience appeared to i

ACLU is 'RZNHELL' with state over specialized plate denials

It’s OK to be a “HELLCAT,” but not a “HELLBOY.” Don’t tell anybody to “HLDMYBR,” but it’s fine to go on a “BEERRUN.” And don’t say “IH8U,” but “YUH8ME” is acceptable.

Those are some of the inconsistencies in state government’s evaluation of specialized vehicle license plate requests, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. The ACLU sent a letter to state officials Tuesday citing what the organization described as actual examples of approvals and denials.


With reorganization plans squashed for now, VA celebrates new Rapid City clinic

RAPID CITY — The long-debated, evolving plans for veterans’ health care in the Black Hills took a step forward Thursday with the grand opening of a new outpatient clinic.

The 49,000-square-foot Rapid City facility is triple the size of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ previous clinic in the city.

That’s a welcome development for Ricky L. Robertson, an Air Force veteran at Thursday’s opening ceremony who said the VA outgrew the prior site.

“That building down there, it was in terrible shape

Lithium exploration planned near Hill City

A company looking for lithium in the Black Hills is planning another drilling project, this time near the southern edge of Hill City.

The company is SDO Services, the South Dakota subsidiary of Swiss-based Midwest Lithium.

Michael Schlumpberger works in Rapid City as Midwest Lithium’s chief operating officer. The company’s previously announced drilling plan, at a location 2 miles from Mount Rushmore, drew criticism from a local environmental advocacy group.

Schlumpberger said the company will

The holy Sturgis trinity: Noem, Jesus and family

A warning to all non-South Dakotans: If you bring your family to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally expecting to meet Jesus, you’re likely to be disappointed. Maybe even offended.

That public service announcement has become necessary to correct the record after a glowing assessment of the rally’s rectitude last week from Gov. Kristi Noem.

She started her weekly newspaper-style column on Friday with this observation: “I didn’t think I’d find so much Jesus at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.” That was in

Noem, Trump and the politics of inaction

Fear and speculation were rampant as the coronavirus swept into the state. Noem issued an executive order with instructions for South Dakotans and held a press conference to discuss it.

Her choice of language was peculiar.

She told South Dakotans what they “should” do. In fact, she used the word 13 times during a press conference that was less than 12 minutes long.

The word also prefaced every instruction in her executive order. Employers “should” implement social distancing, it said. Health

Company looking for lithium in Black Hills plans to drill 2 miles from Rushmore

A company’s plan to conduct exploratory drilling for lithium in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore has sparked criticism from an environmental group.

The company is Midwest Lithium. Its South Dakota subsidiary, SDO Services, plans to drill up to 55 holes in an area that was historically mined for lithium about 2 miles northwest of Keystone and 2 miles northeast of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The former Etta mine, near the project area, was the largest source of lithium in the U.S. for decades

Cleanup of abandoned Black Hills mine on hold for potential re-mining

Aspects of a two-decade-long cleanup at an abandoned Black Hills gold mine are pausing because a company might want to re-mine it.

The Gilt Edge Mine was abandoned in 1999 when its operator, Brohm Mining, went bankrupt. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took over the site the next year.

The EPA’s Joy Jenkins, of Denver, oversees the cleanup. She did not have an updated tally Monday but said the cleanup costs totaled $120 million as of five years ago, and have recently been around $2 mil

South Dakota lacks transparency in lobbyist spending

Lobbying is one of the least transparent political activities in South Dakota, and an interest group’s inclusion of three legislators on a recent tour of the U.S.-Mexico border provides an example.

The three legislators are Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, and Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls.

I’m picking on their trip because it’s a handy example. They deserve some credit for speaking publicly about the trip and acknowledging it was paid for by the Americans fo

State predicts no trouble at future Rushmore fireworks, despite clash in 2020

Protesters physically clashed with law enforcement officers the last time there was a fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, but state officials are telling the federal government there’s no reason to believe something similar would happen again.

The state Department of Tourism applied Wednesday to the U.S. Department of the Interior for a special use permit to conduct a fireworks display next year, on or around the Fourth of July. The Interior Department includes the National Park Service, which

Noem is investor in ethanol plant partnered with carbon pipeline company

Gov. Kristi Noem is an investor in an ethanol plant that’s partnered with a company proposing a controversial carbon dioxide pipeline.

The ethanol plant is Granite Falls Energy in Granite Falls, Minnesota. Noem’s financial disclosures from her former service in Congress and her current time as governor reveal that she and her husband are investors in the plant. Summit Carbon Solutions, a company proposing a carbon pipeline through South Dakota, lists Granite Falls Energy as one of its partners.

Noem plans to use emergency and disaster money to pay for border troop deployment

Gov. Kristi Noem’s funding source for a troop deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border is the state’s Emergency and Disaster Fund, a revelation that caused a top-ranking legislator to criticize the plan and question its legality.

Noem announced the impending troop deployment Thursday in a news release, saying she plans to send at least 50 National Guard soldiers to help secure the nation’s southern border this summer. She and 12 fellow Republican governors are responding to a request for assistance
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