A judge is expected to decide by Monday whether Pennington County Commissioner George Ferebee should be tried on a charge he violated the county’s septic system ordinance, or whether the charge against him should be dismissed.
If the charge moves forward, Ferebee will go to trial the day before Thanksgiving.
Ferebee’s lawyer on Wednesday argued for dismissal of charges that the commissioner violated the county’s septic laws. Defense attorney Kenneth Jasper told the court that Ferebee’s land holdings in Hill City total 250 acres, which would make it exempt from a zoning regulation that requires only properties smaller than 40 acres to have septic tanks pumped, inspected and permitted regularly.
Jasper submitted a diagram of Ferebee’s property and a copy of its warranty deed while questioning Ferebee on the stand.
Ferebee said he has never subdivided the property, which he bought 30 years ago after retiring from the U.S. Air Force. In 1987, he applied to build a septic system.
The prosecution, meanwhile, emphasized that the property is legally made up of four lots and that Ferebee’s home and septic system are on a 12.22-acre lot.
The prosecutor presented testimony from Pennington County environmental planning supervisor Brittney Molitor and Register of Deeds Donna Mayer to back up the split property argument.
In cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Chad Callahan, Ferebee acknowledged that the property is taxed as four parcels, each with its own parcel ID.
Jasper challenged the legality of the county’s existing zoning ordinance, a foundation of Ferebee’s defense. In 2014, the word used to describe property exempt from the septic regulation was changed from “land” to “lot.”
The hearing, which lasted almost three hours, had its strained moments.
After Ferebee kept giving Callahan indirect answers, presiding Judge Eric Strawn told the commissioner: “I’m going to ask you to answer his questions as they’re asked. No more, no less.”
Strawn also suggested a pause in the proceedings when Jasper’s voice began rising as he cross-examined Molitor.
“We can take a break, Mr. Jasper, if you just need to calm down,” Strawn said.
“Oh, I’m quite calm,” Jasper replied.
County officials began issuing notices for zoning violations after the ordinance went through earlier changes in 2010, Molitor said. She is aware of six other cases similar to Ferebee’s, she told the court.
The complaint against Ferebee was filed at the county courthouse on Oct. 14, 2015. His trial by a judge rather than a jury, if it pushes through, will follow criminal procedures.
Judge Strawn said he will work through the weekend to ensure that his written decision is ready by 5 p.m. Monday. The case has undergone several delays already.