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State awards housing funds to Black Hills Works, Cornerstone project

The South Dakota Housing Development Authority announced more than $13.2 million in grant awards to affordable housing projects across the state on Tuesday, including funding for Black Hills Works and the Cornerstone Rescue Mission in Rapid City.

In all, 25 projects will receive SDHDA funding in the form of tax credits, interest-free or low-cost loans, or direct cash infusions for expenses like property acquisition, construction and the rehabilitation of multi-family and affordable rental units.

If all goes according to plan, the SDHDA grants are expected to result in 243 new multi-family housing units, 40 single-family housing units and 80 rehabilitated multi-family housing units.

In Rapid City, Black Hills Works, which serves the area’s disabled population, will receive $775,000 over the next three years for the construction of a new six-unit apartment building for residents making less than 30 percent of the area median income.

Dorothy Rosby, community relations director at Black Hills Works, said construction could begin at 314 Wright St. as early as spring 2019, with the entire grant going toward construction costs.

“There’s not enough affordable housing accessible in Rapid City,” said Rosby, noting that there are more than 50 people currently on the organization’s housing waiting list. “We’re always seeking ways to develop more housing.”

A month’s rent for the apartments offered by Black Hills Works average $378, she said. The new construction is part of the organization’s shift toward more independent living situations for its clients.

“This is another step toward that,” she said of the project.

The Cornerstone Rescue Mission will receive $110,000 over the next three years. Mission Executive Director Lysa Allison said the funds would go toward utility payments and rent and security deposit payments for people transitioning from the mission’s beds to their own apartments.

“We’re grateful to receive the grant,” Allison said. “We’ll continue to try and house as many people as we can.”

Other area recipients include the CREMS Development LLC, which received $342,500 for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Lead schoolhouse building at 121 Wall St., and Costello Investments LLC, which received $1.7 million to construct a three-story, 40-unit apartment building on Neel Street in southeast Rapid City for people at or below 60 percent of the area median income.

Mark Lauseng, executive director of SDHDA, said his organization received 41 applications for more than $22 million. He noted that his organization had more tax credit dollars available than in years past due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2017.

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Mount Rushmore Society makes a move
Mount Rushmore Society finds a home in downtown Rapid City

For the first time in its 88-year existence, the Mount Rushmore Society has a place to call home. The organization is hosting a ceremony and open house for the public on Wednesday to celebrate its new location in a historic downtown Rapid City building.

The Mount Rushmore Society is an official fundraising partner for the National Park Service. Through memberships, donations and sales of retail items, the society provides money for projects and services at Mount Rushmore National Memorial such as seasonal rangers, sculpture preservation, the Junior Ranger program, Youth Exploration Area programs and the annual naturalization ceremony.

The Mount Rushmore Society purchased and remodeled the building at 830 Main St. The building dates to the 1920s and 1930s and was originally an addition to Rapid City Motor Company.

Wednesday’s celebration will begin with a ribbon-cutting at 1:30 p.m. and performances by the Rapid City Stevens Drumline and Whitney Rencountre of Rural America Initiative. After comments by Mount Rushmore Society president Tim Raben, CEO Diana Nielsen Saathoff, Mount Rushmore National Memorial superintendent Cheryl Schreier and a representative from the Rapid City Council, an open house will be held from 2 to 4 p.m.

“This is our first permanent home. This is our very first home we have owned ourselves and we’re pretty excited,” said Nielsen Saathoff, noting the society had been hunting for the right property for about 10 years.

“One of the signs this building was a good home is that President Teddy Roosevelt is on the corner. He’s the father of the National Park Service so it seemed like a good omen to follow. He created the cabinet and the agency and started to set aside lands like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone,” Nielsen Saathoff said.

Over the years, the building transitioned from the Rapid City Motor Company to retail space for a furniture store, a kitchen wholesale business and a pizza restaurant. The Mount Rushmore Society hired South Dakota companies Fennell Design, CO-OP Architecture, and Ainsworth-Benning Construction to renovate the building while preserving some of its history.

“We kept the bones of the building and exposed the brick wherever we could, and there’s beautiful bowed trusses in the ceiling,” Nielsen Saathoff said. “It’s basically all new on the inside, but there’s some wonderful old features. There’s a wall that shows the Rapid City Motor Company sign. We tried to keep and feature historic pieces as we could.”

The Mount Rushmore Society moved into its new location in September and dedicated it, in part, by burying a time capsule in front of the building. The capsule contains Mount Rushmore keepsakes, as well as news from 2018 in the form of a newsletter, an annual report and the names of Mount Rushmore Society board members and staff.

In addition to office space for eight full-time employees and about 20 seasonal and part-time employees, the building includes a technologically updated board room and a retail store that will open in the spring. The building also provides space for special events and fundraisers, Nielsen Saathoff said.

“We hope to do educational events, maybe some learning lunches,” she said. “We’d like to use the space on Main Street to introduce people to more historical stories and maybe put on some youth programs.”

Nielsen Saathoff said she's excited about opportunities to reach out to the community and let them know how they can help Mount Rushmore Society's mission. A major project now is the Monumental Movie Campaign that aims to raise $2 million to update the technology and educational films at Mount Rushmore. The society’s goal is to raise the money in the next 18 to 24 months.

"We want people to stop in and ask questions,” Nielsen Saathoff said. “I am so proud of what we do on a day-to-day basis to make a difference to the visitors’ experience.”

11 Tips for photographing Mount Rushmore

11 tips for photographing Mount Rushmore

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WDT, BHSU, Mines team up to give students more flexibility

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Black Hills State University and Western Dakota Tech are teaming up on a series of initiatives designed to enhance student flexibility in western South Dakota.

"It's somewhat rare to have three sitting presidents come together," BHSU President Thomas Jackson said Tuesday. "But we're working collaboratively on getting students to the same goal from three different starting points." 

Admission to both WDT and BHSU, joint fundraisers and marketing initiatives, and Mines' students accompanying BHSU students on international service learning trips to Botswana are among plans being developed by the campus presidents.

The concerns that are driving the new initiative are similar for the three schools: stagnant West River post-secondary enrollment and a limited resource stream from state government.

"As soon as I got here in 2015, Dr. Jackson reached out and said, 'We need to talk,'" said Ann Bolman, president of WDT in Rapid City. Conversations between herself, Jackson and then-Mines President Heather Wilson focused on everything from sharing faculty to developing two-plus-two curriculum, where students start at WDT and finish at Mines.

"When Dr. (Jim) Rankin arrived at Mines, he very quickly wanted to open up conversation," she said.

The two universities and technical college share the same target demographic and this creates a challenge. Bolman called enrollment at WDT "flat." Both BHSU in Spearfish and Mines in Rapid City lost 5 percent of their full-time students over the past year. All presidents say they aim to make life easier for the student roving between institutions.

"In South Dakota, because the technical colleges and universities have not really developed together, the way we have our coursework doesn't naturally line up," Bolman said.

Many articulation agreements already exist — for example, a student who completes a freshman English class at WDT can have this course count toward a general education requirement at BHSU. However, the school presidents envision greater opportunities for sharing resources and programming across a range of fields, including those still on the drawing board. 

One example is the developing major of mechanician. Bolman said the mining industry wants employees who have the theoretical foundation behind mining sciences but also the technical know-how to operate and repair equipment. A student might start at WDT and finish at Mines in a two-plus-two arrangement. 

Rankin said graduates of the engineering programs told him when he took the job earlier this year they desired business acumen. He foresees students receiving Masters of Business Administration degrees through a partnership with BHSU.

"They have that expertise," Rankin said. "And we have ours." 

As collaboration continues, however, the presidents don't expect the development of a West River University, with three separate campuses. President Jackson, an alum of Southwest State University in Marshall, Minn., said he wrote a letter when the college considered changing names 20 years ago.

"I wouldn't expect that here," he said. "You lose some identity when that happens."

But he did note whether students attend public college in Vermillion, Brookings or Spearfish, the transcripts all come from Pierre.

Ryan Hermens, Journal staff 

St. Thomas More's Jay Neugebauer recovers a fumble and returns it for a touchdown in the first quarter this season against Cheyenne-Eagle Butte. Neugebauer was named 11A all-state at linebacker for the Cavs.

New Underwood man faces prison time in water bill dispute

For six months, a man who has beliefs similar to the sovereign citizens movement allegedly refused to pay his water bill and now faces prison time after the New Underwood City Council voted to report him to police.

James Kopecky, 57, was in court Tuesday to answer to two felony charges: grand theft for allegedly stealing $1,239 worth of city water and refusing to provide a DNA sample in connection with the case. Kopecky's longtime partner, 51-year-old Misty Koch, has been charged with aiding and abetting the theft. 

The pair's arraignment at state court in Rapid City was rescheduled, however, after Kopecky was argumentative with Judge Heidi Linngren. 

"You don't get to interrupt me," Linngren told Kopecky as he made his various legal arguments, sometimes looking down at his hand-written notes.

"Stop, stop," she continued, or you will end up over there, gesturing to where jailed defendants were sitting.

Kopecky's court-appointed lawyer, Paul Pietz, said his client does not believe in the jurisdiction of the court and has ordered him not to talk or approach him. Kopecky, who said he wants to represent himself, refused to enter a plea Tuesday, saying he believed it would be double jeopardy to do that after already doing so in magistrate court. 

Linngren rescheduled the arraignment for 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 18 and as part of their bond conditions ordered the couple to meet with their lawyers. She said if they want to make arguments about jurisdiction and representing themselves, they need to do it with written motions. 

Kopecky identifies as a sovereign citizen, two deputies with the Pennington County Sheriff's Office wrote in their police reports. Sovereign citizens are known to believe in various conspiracy theories, but their main tenet is that people are sovereign from the U.S., and therefore don't have to follow laws, pay taxes or answer to government authorities. 

During an interview with a deputy, the reports say, Kopecky said the U.S. Treasury needs to certify his city water bill as a "true bill" and offset the cost since he only uses silver dollars. 

Kopecky also accused a deputy of conducting an "unlawful citizens arrest" in a letter to the city, the reports say. "Law is supreme, it never yields to some man-made code, statute or any other private rule," he wrote.  

Court records show that instead of signing his name on the document, he wrote "under duress" so it read "signed under duress."

Speaking outside the courthouse Tuesday, Kopecky and Koch said they're not sovereign citizens and disagree with the movement.

Koch called followers of the movement "cop killers" and recommended the writings of Anna von Reitz, a self-proclaimed judge and conspiracy theorist who is popular in the movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that analyzes extremist and hate groups.

Kopecky said he identifies as an "American state national" and that state court doesn't have jurisdiction over him. He said the American Bar Association actually stands for British Accredited Registry and has registered all Americans as property of the queen of England.

The New Underwood City Council voted to ask for criminal charges against Kopecky because "all other means of trying to contact him to make payments (were not working out), and it got to the point where he was just stealing water," Mayor Jack Trullinger said Tuesday in a phone interview. 

Kopecky was also making city staff feel uncomfortable, he added.

Kopecky's water was initially shut off in December 2017 for non-payment, the police reports say. After it appeared that Kopecky turned the water back on by himself, the city put a padlock on the pipe leading to the valve. However, the city later learned that Kopecky was watering his yard and after digging there found that the pipe had been cut. The city claims the pipe was cut a second time as well. 

But Kopecky said after Tuesday's hearing that he has paid the water bills. Koch said she hasn't lived in the house for two years so she's not sure why she was charged. 

If found guilty, the pair could serve up to two years in prison for the grand theft charges. Kopecky faces up to another five years for refusing to provide a DNA sample. 

New Underwood, however, only wants what is owed to the city, according to the mayor.

"We're not looking for him to go to jail," Trullinger said. "We just want our bill paid."

The FBI considers the sovereign citizens movement a domestic terror threat since some followers have committed financial crimes and threatened or killed police officers and other government workers. 

An estimated 300,000 Americans are part of the movement and many with sovereign citizens beliefs reject the label and instead call themselves state nationals, according to a profile of the group by the SPLC.