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Legislative Update #2

January 23, 2011

South Dakota Legislature Weekly Report
January 16–January 25, 2011
by Edward Raventon, lobbyist, South Dakota chapter

This week I was able to visit with Rep. L. Paul Dennert of Columbia, one of the sponsors of HB 1002 and a co-sponsor of HB 1001. We talked at length regarding the specifics of these bills and his intent for sponsoring them. He graciously answered all my many questions and concerns about this important piece of legislation.

HB 1001 and 1002 intend to standardize agricultural land value for taxation by creating a statistical database for value assessment based on uses, income and land variability. Our biggest concern is whether this legislation will provide a lower tax incentive for owners who choose to create easements and/or maintain land in grass and wetlands. I believe the answer is “yes”. These bills will primarily look at sales value and productivity regarding tax value assessment. Rep. Dennert also assured me that later this session he plans to introduce another bill further refining the valuation process by adding “actual use” into the equation. All these guidelines are “tools” as he explained for county assessors to assess ag land for reasonable and equitable taxation in their areas.

These two bills have bi-partisan support and Dennert is confident they will get a “do pass” next week. If that happens, I may work the floor as an advocate for this legislation.

There was some interest in SB 55, a bill to allow shooting of coyotes from a snowmobile. I talked to Sen. Ryan Maher who sponsored the bill. When we discussed it, he realized it was too loose and assured me that he does not want to start a new sport, just deter coyote depredation on livestock. I believe he intends to amend his bill to apply only to landowners who need to hunt/thin coyotes on their private property and nowhere else. This works for me. Since SD Animal Damage Control (ADC) withdrew funds for coyote control in northwestern SD three years ago, Maher said coyotes have become bold enough to enter feed yards and actually mingle with cows.

Another bill, HB 1006, allows the shooting of “pests” with an air gun. I told Senator Maher that legislation expanding such hunting needs to define “pests” and possibly limit eligible shooters to people 18 and over.

HB 1047 rolls back all regulations on hunting prairie dogs, making it open season on them all the time. This is an unfortunate bi-partisan bill that will very likely draw the ire of wildlife conservationists to petition the FWS to list the Black-tailed Prairie Dog on the endangered species list. This bill has had one reading to date and I will be opposing it when it comes to committee.

Steve Pirner, Secretary of the SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave an update to the both the Senate and House Ag & Nat. Res. committees. The “hot topics” he mentioned may be of interest to some of you, so I have briefly summarized them below with my own added comments:

  1. Two underground fires (smoldering rubble that occasionally flares up) at construction debris sites near Pierre and Box Elder. These fires are producing nasty, acrid smoke that according to Pirner pass air quality standards but nonetheless are foul to breathe. Pirner estimated these fires to be 75 feet under the piles and have proven to be difficult to extinguish.
  2. Veblen Dairy’s two full manure ponds sites near Veblen are presently dangerously near overflowing. This is a touch and go situation for a major water quality disaster predicated on how much moisture falls and the saturation of the earth. If the ponds over flow, there will be a significant release of thousands of gallons of polluted water. Veblen Dairy is in bankruptcy and receivership.
  3. Hyperion Energy Center near Elk Point is attempting to renew their air quality permit. Hyperion wants to build a refinery to process 400,000 barrels of oil/day but has yet to start construction. Their delay has voided their 18-month DENR permit window to begin construction. SD DENR (Pirner) wants to extend their lapsed permit window but this may prove legally difficult. In the meantime, the Iowa DNR has now joined the fray by rejecting Hyperion’s proposal to build without doing an EIS. Because of their delay, Hyperion is now faced with a host of new and old contested issues and permits they need to resolve. Hyperion’s difficulties are good news for the environment.
  4. An oilfield has been proposed about 2 miles directly west of Bear Butte. Estimates are that this field may contain 4 million barrels of recoverable crude. Since Bear Butte is a National Historic Landmark, the construction of this field in such close proximity to Bear Butte will likely be contested.
  5. Wharf Resources gold mine, a Canadian Company, wants to expand their operations to mine lower grade gold ore on what was formerly the old Golden Reward mine below Terry Peak. Their proposed operations will encircle the north and east sides of Terry Peak, a scenic Black Hills area. They are in the first stage of the permitting process.
  6. PowerTech wants to do in-situ uranium mining northwest of Edgemont near Dewey, SD. It will be underground injection mining of the method I believe is currently being done in the Pine Ridge area south of Crawford, NE.
  7. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an Authorized Uses Study and Surplus Water Studies with the intent of charging water users for water taken from its main stem reservoirs. This should provide quite a spirited discussion as to which entity owns the “surplus water” and who should be charged for storing it. The proposed rate has been set at $20.91/acre-foot.
  8. The US EPA is proposing new, more stringent rules for drinking water, air quality standards, numeric nutrient water quality standards and regulation of greenhouse gases. Sec. Pirner, who is charged with protecting SD’s environment, is not pleased with the new, tighter guidelines.

Jeff Vonk, Secretary of Game, Fish & Parks also appeared at both House and Senate Committee meetings. He had these items to discuss:

  1. 100,000 more walk-in hunting acres were added in 2010.
  2. Work is underway on the new $12 million Outdoor West Campus in Rapid City to be modeled after the very successful Outdoor East Campus in Sioux Falls. Vonk was pleased by the fact that an additional $1 million was donated to build and maintain an aquarium in this facility.
  3. Eleven new land tracts were added to lands owned and managed by G, F & P in 2010. Vonk was particularly happy about the 5,300 acre ranch addition near Angostura Reservoir that will be developed for more camping and pheasant habitat.
  4. A new boat ramp was added to Lake Sharpe near Lower Brule as well as a fishing lake near Sioux Falls that has been, according to creel surveys, “wildly popular” with anglers.
  5. Land acquisition to protect the Blood Run archeological site southeast of Sioux Falls and Tony Dean Acres will continue. Vonk explained that since these projects are already well underway, he has the Governor’s blessing to continue with the land acquisition. This is great news.

Vonk made it a point to say that GF&P pays taxes on all its property (about $3 million/year) and receives no money from the General Fund. GF&P derives all of its operating budget income from the sale of state hunting and fishing license fees and a portion of Federal Excise Tax on licenses and sporting equipment.

One final note, after the Senate committee meeting I was visiting with Sen. Maher on a number of concerns we share. At the end of our conversation, he expressed surprise at how much money and effort goes into supporting parks, outdoor recreation and wildlife. My comment was that most people in this state do not realize how much and how many South Dakotans love and appreciate their state’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and wildlife. That’s all of us.

Thanks for your support!

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