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Local artist's sticker sale raises $7K for Legion Lake Fire recovery efforts

Artist Bonny Fleming and shoppers nationwide raised $7,000 for Legion Lake Fire recovery efforts by showing the Black Hills some love.

Fleming is a photographer and graphic designer who owns Bonzeye Studio in downtown Rapid City. The natural beauty of western South Dakota inspires much of her work, including a line of stickers. On Dec. 10, one day before the Legion Lake Fire ignited, Fleming's newest sticker design proclaiming "I Love the Black Hills" debuted in her studio. 

As the Legion Lake Fire burned 85 square miles in Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and private land, Fleming launched an impromptu fire recovery fundraiser. She posted a video on Facebook on Dec. 14 announcing the sale of "I Love the Black Hills" stickers at $4 each. Fleming's goal was to raise $1,000. The fundraiser turned out "a little bit better than anticipated," Fleming said, laughing. 

"I didn't expect to raise the $7,000 at all. I thought I would sell stickers and give the money away. The response was simply overwhelming. We received online orders from every corner of the country. We sold thousands in just two short weeks. I've never done anything that took off like this."

The sticker's sentiment struck a chord. Fleming had 200 stickers in stock on the first day; within 24 hours she had orders for 432 stickers and she'd already raised more than $1,000. In the midst of the hectic Christmas season, Fleming was filling and shipping hundreds of orders a day, selling stickers in her downtown gallery and ordering more from her supplier. 

"Stickers really did go everywhere," she said. "I had people come into the store and buy them and tell me they were sending stickers overseas. Everybody could pitch in and be a part of something and do something good."

Fleming credits the town of Custer and enthusiasm on social media for the fundraiser's success. "I did a little live video and the town of Custer shared it and that's when it really took off. I compare (the fundraiser) to the way the fire burned; it was going and it just exploded," Fleming said.

"The thing that was so cool for me was how many people participated. I just offered this way for people to help, and they were the ones that made it happen. It was so fantastic to be a part of it. ... I think that's the special thing about where we live. People come through and help everybody out."

Fleming concluded the fundraiser Dec. 31. On Jan. 3, she sent a $7,000 check to the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. The foundation will use the funds wherever they are most needed to aid fire recovery, she said.

The "I Love the Black Hills" sticker can still be purchased at, although no more proceeds will go toward fire recovery, Fleming said.

$7M landfill expansion planned

The Rapid City Landfill is running out of space.

But a nearly $7 million project at the 360-acre facility just southwest of S.D. Highway 79 and East Catron Boulevard is being fast-tracked to ensure its continued usability for the next two decades.

On Jan. 2, the Rapid City Council authorized the landfill to begin advertising for bids from interested contractors for a project to create two additional cells in an approximately 50-acre triangular plot west of the landfill’s recycling center.

The project, which will occur in two phases and is expected to be completed in August, includes soil removal, installation of a plastic liner and leachate collection and disposal. The relocation of some power lines will also be necessary.

“There’s a lot of upfront (costs) here but it is an investment in the future,” said Karl Merbach, superintendent of the city-owned landfill, in an interview Thursday. Currently, the landfill has one operating cell remaining with about a year of usability left.

The first phase, Merbach said, will add about 10 years of life to the landfill, which accepts about 450 tons of garbage per day. The second phase would add another 10 to 12 years of usability.

“We’re digging a big hole in the ground,” he deadpanned of the first phase. The soil removal will cost $2.5 million.

Then, Merbach explained, comes the installation of a plastic liner, which will cost about $1.5 million and ensure that any water that comes into contact with the garbage doesn’t seep into groundwater sources. Piping and detention ponds will be installed and constructed to store the runoff water.

While the request to begin advertising for bids has passed through the council, the supplemental appropriation for the project has yet to come before the council. The first consideration and public hearing for the funding source will come before the city’s Legal and Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Of the $6.8 million, about $4.7 million will come from the Solid Waste Department’s undesignated cash fund. The remaining $2.1 million will come from the department’s collection fund. In 2016, the landfill ended with a $345,457 surplus after it collected $6,708,840 against $6,363,383 in expenses, according to city Finance Director Pauline Sumption.

As for the landfill’s future in, say, 2038 — when Cell 18 and 19 are likely to be nearing their capacity — Merbach mentioned a 106-acre plot just south of the landfill which the city purchased 14 years ago and could add another 30 years of life to the landfill.

“The more we can extend our life here,” Merbach said, “the more we don’t have to in the future consider ... where are you going to put the next landfill in Rapid City?”

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Lawmakers to gather for Daugaard's final legislative session

PIERRE | Gov. Dennis Daugaard's final legislative session as governor won't be full of new state spending, but South Dakota lawmakers will keep busy debating changes to the state's ballot question system, tougher penalties for meth dealers and the use of lakes on private land.

Legislators return Tuesday for the opening of the 2018 session and Daugaard's State of the State address. Here's a look at the agenda until lawmakers adjourn in late March:

Lackluster finances

It's simple: South Dakota's not flush. Daugaard last month proposed government spending limited by disappointing tax collections, meaning schools can't expect a per-student funding hike and most state workers will likely go without raises for the second straight year.

Officials pin the weakness in sales tax, the state's main revenue source; low farm income; e-commerce sales and increased health care costs. The GOP-controlled Legislature will reshape the current budget and craft the next one during the upcoming session.

Ballot questions

Some lawmakers are eyeing changes to South Dakota's first-in-the-nation state ballot question system, including a proposal that would ask voters to make it harder for constitutional amendments to pass at the ballot box.

House Speaker Mark Mickelson has floated an idea that would end citizens' ability to gather signatures to propose constitutional changes at all. He's also discussed giving voters a chance to scrap a victims' rights constitutional amendment approved at the ballot that critics say has brought too many unintended consequences with it.

Lawmaker pay

Should legislators get a raise? It could be voters' choice. Top lawmakers are sponsoring a measure that would set legislators' salaries at one-fifth of the median income. U.S. Census numbers for 2015 show that would mean a raise of 70 percent for the state's 105 lawmakers to nearly $10,200.

Supporters say low pay limits the pool of people who can serve as legislators.

University unions

Faculty take note: Mickelson has proposed ending collective bargaining at South Dakota's public universities.

Mickelson has said he doesn't think collective bargaining "serves the mission of educating our kids." Union contracts cover more than 1,300 staff members at the state's six public universities and at schools for the blind and deaf.

The union negotiates on issues such as academic freedom, grievance rights, evaluation and tenure, but members can't bargain for salary and benefits.

Flooded lands

Daugaard wants lawmakers to extend an expiring law that governs the use of lakes on private land for recreation. The new rules were the product of a special legislative session last year on so-called nonmeandered waters.

Nonmeandered waters are bodies of water that weren't specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s. Some private property has since flooded, forming new, unofficial bodies of water and creating good fishing. But that has come at the cost of farmland and pastures lost by agriculture producers.

The law restored access to nearly 30 specific lakes for public recreation hampered after a 2017 state Supreme Court decision. It also said lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs or buoys saying an area is closed.

The governor's bill would move the law's June expiration date to 2021.

Ag's bills

Attorney General Marty Jackley is seeking harsher penalties for methamphetamine dealing and manufacturing. The proposed changes also include tougher sentences for meth distribution if the person has things such as cash or guns and increasing penalties for distributing the drug to a minor.

Jackley also wants to require companies to inform state residents whose personal information was acquired in a data breach. The plan would require companies to notify the attorney general if it affected more than 250 residents.

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Custer State Park trails in good shape despite fire

Fire damage won’t hamper Custer State Park winter trail activities. 

Despite thousands of acres of Custer State Park being consumed by the Legion Lake Fire, those looking to snowmobile, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or enjoy the park’s trails this winter will be pleased to know the trails are fully operational.

The regular trails are up and running, and the visitor center has already begun its free rental of snowshoes, according to Kobee Stalder, visitor services program manager for the park.

In fact, despite having endured the third-largest forest fire in Black Hills modern history, the official 2018 trail map won’t be altered at all.

“We ran all of our trails after the Legion Lake Fire, and surprisingly they were all in really good shape,” said Stalder. “There was some minor maintenance that had to be done to some of them, but we’ve already done that."

Stalder said the park’s biggest concern with the trails is tree snags from damaged trees, but firefighters and park staff have already cut down those they believed posed an imminent threat.

“Right now our trails are looking good, and we have just enough snow on the ground for people to go snowshoeing,” Stalder said. “We’re pretty happy with how everything shook out after the fire. Things could have been a lot worse.”

So how exactly can a fire affect a forest trail system?

“The biggest thing is obviously blockage of the trails,” said Stalder. “Trees that have come down on the trail due to fire. Erosion is also a big concern.”

According to Stalder, wildfire causes erosion by removing native plants and "forest-litter" along the forest floor that would normally protect the soil from eroding down slope. In spring, when snow begins to thaw and rain falls, mud slides and other erosion issues may present problems for the trail system.

There’s still work to be done; the parks service will likely be monitoring the effects of the fire and providing erosion control and maintenance for the next five to 10 years.

“We’ll do things like reseeding areas, we’ll control weed growth to allow native plants to grow, and we’ll make sure that the forest floor has a good base,” Stalder said. “It’s a long process after a fire of that magnitude,” he said.

Stalder stressed that although the trails are generally safe, users should remain aware of their surroundings, as fire-weakened trees can fall without warning.