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Floating dredge will make maiden voyage on Canyon Lake this spring

After an attempted dredging of Rapid City’s Canyon Lake was thwarted several years ago, another attempt will be made this spring.

This time, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks will apply a newly purchased floating dredge to the task.

Officials had hoped to dredge Canyon Lake while it was drained in late 2014 and early 2015, when the spillway was being reconstructed. That plan included driving heavy equipment onto the lake bed to scrape out the built-up sediment.

But higher-than-expected inflows overwhelmed a diversion pipe, and the lake bed remained too wet for the dredging work.

The GF&P has since purchased a floating dredge, which will make its maiden voyage on Canyon Lake. John Carreiro, of the GF&P’s Rapid City office, hopes to begin the dredging in April and said it could last several months.

The total cost to acquire the dredge and its associated equipment and supplies was $273,740. Of that amount, $100,000 was supplied by a grant from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, $150,000 was contributed by the West Dakota Water Development District, $13,740 came from the city of Rapid City, and $10,000 was provided by Black Hills Fly Fishers.

The dredge looks like a small barge. It's a DinoSix model, made by GeoForm International of Olathe, Kansas. The DinoSix is 21 feet long, about 6 feet wide, about 5 feet tall, weighs 3,800 pounds and floats on stainless steel pontoons. The spartan deck consists of guardrails, controls, a seat and a diesel engine.

A 5.5-foot-wide cutting head on the front of the dredge looks like a giant garden tiller. The cutting head can be lowered to a depth of 13 feet to churn up sludge and sediment, while a pump sucks the sediment up a metal tube and sends it through a length of portable pipe that runs back to the shore.

On the shore, the sediment is discharged into permeable tubes measuring roughly 100 feet by 6 feet. The tubes trap the sediment but allow water to filter and drain back into the lake. Carreiro said the tubes at Canyon Lake will be placed near the boat ramp.

When the tubes have been sufficiently de-watered, the sediment in the bags can be hauled away and dumped. Carreiro said those arrangements are still being made and the destination of the Canyon Lake sediment is not yet known.

Carreiro said the floating dredge is predicted to shave anywhere from a foot to several feet of sediment from various areas of the lake bottom, and the anticipated total harvest of sediment is 15,000 cubic yards. That’s the equivalent of up to 1,500 dump-truck loads, but it’s less than the more than 33,000 cubic yards that was expected to be dredged out of Canyon Lake while it was drained during the winter of 2014-2015.

Using a floating dredge instead of dredging a drained lake is a trade-off, Carreiro said. While a floating dredge will remove less sediment, it won’t require the removal or mass killing of fish, and public access to parts of the lake will be retained while the floating dredge is in use.

After this summer, the GF&P hopes to use the floating dredge on other small lakes throughout western South Dakota.

Future of Rapid City's anti-discrimination commission is unclear

The future of Rapid City's anti-discrimination commission is unclear after it was put on hold last fall. 

Mayor Steve Allender put the Human Rights Commission (HRC) — a group that investigates and mediates discrimination complaints — on pause after the HRC's October meeting when not enough members attended for a quorum and ordered staff to review the program, said city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker.

"Commission members brought forward the issue about the continuation of the commission with concerns about attendance, lack of purpose with many efforts duplicated, lack of inquiries/cases and achieving the mission of the Human Relations Commission," he said. 

"Each month, the city's HRC would meet and work to figure out what they should do to have more cases brought their way," Shoemaker said. 

HRC members gave presentations about the commission and the city promoted the HRC on its website and on TV. "But these efforts produced little as far as inquiries or complaints," Shoemaker said. 

Between 2009 and 2014, 55 complaints were submitted to the HRC, according to a 2014 Journal article. Two made it to a hearing with the commission, the last one in 2009. Just 14 complaints were filed from 2014 to 2018, according to Shoemaker. 

The number of complaints dropped significantly after the city changed how complaints were filed, said Jessica Rogers, assistant city attorney.

Before 2014, anyone could walk into the City Attorney's Office and file a formal complaint. Now, they must call the office and if their complaint is related to discrimination against a protected class (race, gender, religion, etc.), the person will meet with Rogers, who does a secondary screening. If she finds the complaint has legal merit, she files the formal complaint.

While some complaints were dismissed, others were resolved before making it to the HRC or transferred to the state HRC, Rogers said. The person accused of discrimination has the right to transfer the case to the state agency, which has a reputation of being friendly to employers, she said. 

If a discrimination complaint made it to the Rapid City HRC and was found to be true, commission members could order a remedy such as making a company rehire someone or a forcing a landlord to give someone back their housing, Rogers said. 

She said the purpose of having a local HRC is to "make it easier for people to file complaints." Residents can walk right into the City Attorney's Office to ask for help while the state HRC is in Pierre.

One Rapid City, a local social justice group, is hoping the HRC will be revived. 

"Rapid City needs a functional and accessible process for holding people accountable when discrimination occurs," the group said in an email. "We are urging the city to follow through on its current case, to continue accepting new cases even while the commission is on hold, to reinstate the commission as soon as possible, and to seek public input on how to make the commission more accessible and more effective in the future."

One Rapid City said it met with the city attorney and HRC in 2017 and was upset when no one contacted them to notify them the HRC was on hold. The group said it's concerned that the statute of limitations will expire for a man with an active case.

Shoemaker said the City Attorney's Office met with him to discuss his options, and he seemed satisfied after he received a written apology from the person or group he complained about. The man was also told how to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if he wished to do so. 

Shoemaker said no one else has an active case with the HRC, and if someone reaches out to the commission, the City Attorney's Office will refer them to a different agency where they can file their complaint. The office can be reached at 605-394-4140.

Part of the HRC review process, Shoemaker said, involves researching how other cities approach discrimination complaints. Any change about the future of HRC would require an ordinance amendment approved by the Rapid City Council, he said. He also said that Allender is meeting with One Rapid City in early March to discuss the future of HRC. 

Ryan Hermens, Journal staff 

Dylan Pourier, of Rapid City Stevens, drives to the basket as Rapid City Central's Kohl Meisman follows during Saturday's SoDak 16 game at Carold Heier Gymnasium.

Two charged with trying to steal from South Dakota polygamous compound

Two Colorado men face criminal charges for allegedly stealing property from a secretive polygamous compound in South Dakota, and one of the men faces additional charges for guns and drugs he allegedly possessed when he was caught.

The two men are Wade Eli Bird, 29, of Sugar City, Colorado, and Wesley Michael Reber, 31, of Centennial, Colorado. According to prosecutor Tracy Kelley, who is the state’s attorney of Custer County, neither man is affiliated with the compound or the religious sect to which inhabitants of the compound belong.

Kelley said the two men viewed the compound as “a target of opportunity.”

After Bird was arrested on Jan. 31, 2018, he was questioned by Custer County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Tramp, who filed a report in which he recounted Bird’s motive.

“He stated that he and his friend ‘Wes’ were at the ‘compound’ to ‘f--- with the polygamists,” Tramp wrote (Tramp’s report included an obscene word, the final three letters of which are omitted here).

Tramp’s report said Bird and Reber allegedly tried to steal several trailers and a skid-steer loader from the compound controlled by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is known by the abbreviation FLDS and is a breakaway Mormon group that condones polygamy and has members in numerous communities in the United States and Canada, including Colorado.

The 140-acre FLDS compound in South Dakota — which has several dorm-like buildings, numerous additional structures and a watchtower — is near the edge of a canyon in a remote part of Custer County, about 15 miles southwest of the small town of Pringle. The compound is split by a public road that leads to a non-FLDS-owned cabin, and the compound is fenced and gated on both sides of the road.

Although several observers of the compound have speculated that its population — once rumored in the hundreds — has dwindled significantly in recent years, public records show that the compound used 13.63 million gallons of water in 2018, which was more than any other year since the compound began sending required water-usage reports to state regulators in 2008.

The alleged burglary and theft at the compound by Bird and Reber is detailed in a transcript of Bird’s preliminary hearing, which was conducted April 3 in the Custer County Courthouse in Custer.

Lt. Steve McMillin, of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, testified during the hearing that he had obtained a search warrant and conducted a search of Bird’s cell phone. McMillin said GPS locations, photographs and text messages on the phone indicated Bird had visited the compound — perhaps to conduct reconnaissance — as early as Jan. 15, 2018.

Then, on Jan. 21, 2018, Bird and Reber were allegedly on compound property when they were discovered and confronted by Helaman Jeffs, an apparent FLDS member who said during his testimony at the preliminary hearing that he oversees the compound.

Jeffs testified that one of the men — later identified as Bird — falsely identified himself as Wes Steed and said he had been sent to the compound to get trailers belonging to Clyde Jessup or Seth Jeffs (the surnames Steed, Jessup and Jeffs are common among FLDS members, and Seth Jeffs, who is Helaman Jeffs’ uncle, formerly oversaw the South Dakota compound).

Helaman Jeffs testified that he did not believe the intruder’s explanation, so Helaman called his uncle, Seth Jeffs, and also called law enforcement to report the intruders. Helaman Jeffs also testified that he told both men to leave the compound, and after they did, Jeffs discovered that one of the compound’s trailers had been moved.

Ten days later, on the morning of Jan. 31, 2018, according to Jeffs, he noticed movement in one of the compound’s security-camera feeds and went to check on it. He testified that he encountered Reber in a pickup pulling one of the compound’s trailers, and Reber sped away.

Jeffs then called law enforcement. Lt. McMillin responded to the compound, and a neighbor’s tip led McMillin and Jeffs to discover a trailer and skid-steer loader from the compound that had been moved and abandoned just outside a section of the compound’s barbed-wire fence, which appeared to have been cut. Jeffs and McMillin also discovered that a door to the compound’s storehouse had been pried open.

Meanwhile, Deputy Tramp had also responded to Jeffs’ call and was driving west on 18 Mile Road when he encountered Bird driving east in a pickup. Tramp turned around, caught up with Bird’s pickup and pulled it over on state Highway 89.

Tramp testified that Bird initially identified himself as William Todd Ansel Davis. It wasn’t until later, when Sheriff Marty Mechaley arrived and Tramp and Mechaley searched the pickup, that a photo ID was found in the pickup’s center console and Bird’s true identity was determined.

An initial search of the pickup and a later, more thorough search after a warrant was obtained allegedly turned up items including some tools stolen from the compound, two loaded handguns, methamphetamine, LSD and drug paraphernalia.

Lt. McMillin testified that some of the video files found on Bird’s phone were incriminating.

“He actually took the phone out and conveniently photographed him unhooking the trailer by the skid-steer and taking off after a blue Ford Ranger showed up,” says the transcript of McMillin’s testimony. The Ford Ranger was driven by a neighbor of the compound.

Reber escaped capture but was subsequently apprehended in Colorado, where he is facing separate and apparently unrelated charges of violating a protection order and being a fugitive from justice. Kelley said she hopes to eventually extradite him back to South Dakota, where he is charged with third-degree burglary, attempted grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft.

Bird is facing a long list of charges in South Dakota, including third-degree burglary; attempted grand theft; conspiracy to commit grand theft; first-degree petty theft; unauthorized possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute; unauthorized possession of a controlled substance; carrying a concealed weapon without a permit; false impersonation with intent to deceive a law enforcement officer; and driving with a revoked license.

Bird pleaded not guilty and posted bail in the form of a $35,000 bond, but he is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing in the coming weeks.

Bird’s attorney, Paul Andrews, of Rapid City, said Bird is not affiliated with the FLDS but otherwise declined to answer the Journal’s questions about the case.