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'Neglected' park to get $1.2M overhaul

A $1.2 million project to remake west Memorial Park appears likely to begin next spring after the city’s legal and finance committee members expressed unanimous support at Tuesday’s meeting.

The rectangular area of Memorial Park contained between Interstate 190 and Eighth Street, and Omaha Street and Rapid Creek, will see extensive renovations as drainage improvements, landscaping and a new bike path are incorporated into the largely empty expanse just south of Rapid City Central High School.

“It’s kind of an overhaul of a park area that’s kind of been neglected a little bit,” said city engineer Rod Johnson during Tuesday's meeting.

Included in the conceptual design is the creation of a stormwater management area, including a micro pool, where stormwater collected from west of Mount Rushmore Road could be stored and remediated before flowing into Rapid Creek.

The existing bike path will also be regraded and paved as certain segments of the route are noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act due to overly steep slopes.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the project to the public will be the creation of a new bike path and the influx of shrubbery and trees along the park area’s borders. The new bike path will wind around the stormwater management area and trace the park’s southern border just north of Omaha Street before linking with another north and south section adjacent to the sidewalk on Eighth Street.

“It will basically be an alternate route if we’re in a flooded condition,” Johnson said of the new route, which will bypass the current path that crosses over an existing drainage channel that can be overtaken with storm water during heavy rains.

The first phase of the project, which includes the drainage work and improvements to the existing bike path, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018. The second phase, which will see the construction of the new bike route, is expected to commence in 2019 and be completed by 2020, Johnson said after the meeting.

In other action, committee members recommended:

• Authorizing staff to submit requests for proposals for a traffic study of east Rapid City, including S.D. Highway 44, East Omaha, Cambell and East North streets, and North Valley/Camden drives. The study comes as “recent and continuing development in eastern Rapid City has led to a shift in traffic patterns,” said city engineer Kip Harrington in a city memo. “Numerous traffic issues have surfaced, including disparate lane usage, turn lane congestion and intersection delay.” The study, which will provide recommendations for potential infrastructure improvements to help offset these issues, is expected to cost $150,000 and be completed by December 2018.

• Beginning the bidding process for a project to repair and improve a section of East St. Joseph Street from East St. Patrick to Cambell streets. Improvements will include asphalt overlay and patching, curb and gutter spot repairs, pedestrian signal upgrades, and the construction of an ADA compliant intersection at East St. Joseph and East St. Patrick streets. The project, which will begin in April and is expected to be completed in June, is estimated to cost $400,000.

• Beginning the bidding process for a project to build a new starter shack at Meadowbrook Golf Course near the current practice putting green and driving range. The new shack would be constructed at a different location than the current starter structure, which lies in the floodway, and would include restrooms and storage space. The project is estimated to cost $275,000.

School districts want teacher-pay waivers

PIERRE | Come Thursday and Friday, 26 of South Dakota’s public school districts will send officials to the state's School Finance Accountability Board.

The local representatives want to explain why their districts didn’t meet thresholds the Legislature set for teacher compensation as part of a new formula intended to boost pay.

In that same 2016 legislative session, lawmakers increased the rate of South Dakota’s sales and use tax to 4.5 percent, from the 4 percent it had been since 1969.

The revenue from the tax increase provided money for raises. South Dakota ranked last in the nation for teacher pay.

Legislators set several criteria for spending the additional money: Each district's increase in average teacher compensation from fiscal year 2016 to 2017 shall be equal to at least 85 percent of the district's increase in local need, and at least 85 percent of the increase in state aid to general education funding shall be used to increase instructional salaries and benefits for certified instructional staff.

Thirty-six didn’t make the cut this year.

Of those, Lead-Deadwood and Elk Mountain districts didn’t receive state aid. Of the remaining 34, eight automatically received approval of waivers they requested because they met conditions the accountability board set Oct. 19.

The board said state government’s Department of Education could grant a waiver if a district missed both accountabilities by 0.5 percent or less, or met one of the accountabilities and came within 0.5 percent on the other.

That left 26 facing the possible penalty of losing half of their additional state aid for the coming school year.

The state board will make recommendations on what should happen to each of them. The final decision comes in December when a legislative committee says yes or no to each one.

The waiver hearings Thursday and Friday start each day at 7:30 a.m. MDT at the Capitol.

The accountability board’s agenda calls for the members to present a summary of their decisions at 2 p.m. Friday. The meeting is in room 412.

Members are Huron superintendent Terry Nebelsick, Belle Fourche schools business manager Susan Proefrock, Mobridge-Pollock school board member Eric Stroeder, Brandon Valley superintendent Jarod Larson and governor’s aide Patrick Weber.

All 34 districts, including the eight that received department waivers, would face final approvals from the 18 Senate and House members who comprise the Joint Committee on Appropriations, according to Mary Stadick Smith, a state Department of Education official.

Man charged in tribal court following crash that killed Pine Ridge family

A man involved in a Pine Ridge crash that killed a family of three earlier this month has been charged in tribal court with drunken driving, according to law enforcement.

Tyler Makes Him First, 28, of Porcupine has been charged in Oglala Sioux Tribal Court with driving under the influence, said tribal Highway Safety Trooper Kevin Rascher.

The crash occurred around 7:15 p.m. Nov. 4 along Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway 27, when Makes Him First’s pickup crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with the family’s car, said Rascher, a traffic accident investigator with the tribe’s Department of Public Safety. The site, he said, was about a mile north of the Evergreen Housing complex in Porcupine.

The car’s three occupants died: the driver, Waylon Red Elk Sr., 42; his wife, Jaylene Pretends Eagle, 34; and their son, Waylon Red Elk Jr., 1. Pretends Eagle had been seven months pregnant. They were residents of Wanblee.

Makes Him First suffered injuries to the collarbone and chest area and was treated at the Indian Health Service hospital on Pine Ridge, Rascher said. The result of a preliminary breath test, conducted to determine Makes Him First’s blood alcohol level at that time, was not immediately available.

Autopsies have been performed on the victims, and the findings will be submitted to federal law enforcement, said Oglala Sioux Tribe police chief Mark Mesteth.

As of Tuesday afternoon, federal court records did not show any charges against Makes Him First, and he was not detained in tribal jail.

The matter remains under federal investigation and is being monitored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Randy Seiler, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota.

In these types of incidents, federal prosecutors first evaluate investigation reports such as accident reconstruction, autopsy results and FBI witness interviews, before making a charging decision.