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New OST police chief fails to report for work; search to fill position reopens

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has resumed looking for a new police chief after the woman who got the job didn’t report for work last week.

Grace Her Many Horses, police captain on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota, was supposed to start her term as Pine Ridge police chief on Nov. 20 but didn’t appear. The Oglala Sioux tribal council voted to award her the job this summer.

“We were really excited to get some new blood in there and give a woman a try,” said Robin Tapio, a council member and a member of the law and order committee.

The tribe offered the job to Her Many Horses because of her experience and qualifications, said Lydia Bear Killer, the committee vice-chairwoman. During her tenure as police chief on the Rosebud reservation, Her Many Horses helped fix up its police department, including bringing in more officers, securing grants, complying with federal regulations and strengthening services, Bear Killer said.

“We knew what she did for Rosebud,” Bear Killer said.

Oglala Sioux officials were aware Her Many Horses once had been removed from her position as Rosebud police chief, Bear Killer said, but they believed it was a political move rather than a result of wrongdoing by Her Many Horses.

Tapio said Her Many Horses went through the established job application procedure, including submitting a letter of intent, doing a phone interview and undergoing a background check.

Her Many Horses, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has been in law enforcement for around 20 years, according to media accounts of her work.

Her reason for not reporting for her new Pine Ridge job is not clear. She didn’t respond to multiple messages from the Journal. Stanley Little Whiteman, chairman of the Oglala Sioux tribal council’s law and order committee, couldn't be reached for comment.

The job vacancy has been readvertised, including being posted on the tribe’s official Facebook page on Nov. 22. It says the deadline for application is Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, Mark Mesteth remains acting chief of the tribal police. Mesteth has held the position since spring, when police chief Harry Martinez resigned in April following a vote of no confidence from the tribal council.

Since 2008, the job has changed hands at least seven times, according to a department memo.

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TIF district could pave way for new development

The burgeoning southern corridor to Rapid City that has been an area for explosive growth appears likely to see another development project with some help from a tax increment financing district.

At the city’s Legal and Finance Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, members recommended approving a resolution to create a tax increment financing district, or TIF, for a lot northwest of the intersection of U.S. Highway 16 and Catron Boulevard. The vote was 3-1 with Alderwoman Amanda Scott cast the "nay" vote.

TIF districts are intended to encourage economic development or public improvement projects in blighted areas by delaying the payment of increases in property tax payments in the district and instead putting the money toward preapproved project costs. In essence, as the construction or improvements are completed, the district’s property valuation and subsequent property taxes increase.

But instead of collecting the increased property taxes, the money is instead diverted to a fund to pay for preapproved project costs approved by the city council. Property taxes are still paid, but only for the valuation of the property before the work begins, called the base valuation.

In the proposed TIF district at Wednesday’s meeting, about $5.5 million in property tax payments would be diverted toward construction of a road — called Promise Road in city documents — that would link Golden Eagle Drive with Catron Boulevard along the western edge of the TIF district boundary. Utility and traffic signal adjustments and road realignments at the intersection of Promise Road and Catron Boulevard, and Promise Road and Golden Eagle Drive, would also be completed.

Hani Shafai, president of Dream Design International and the developer of the 105-acre lot, said the parcel is expected to house some minor retail space, a hotel and some restaurants. The main piece of the project, a $60 to $100 million office building, is currently in negotiations, Shafai said. None of the TIF funds would go toward building those structures.

Currently, the estimated assessed value of the area within the proposed district is about $3 million. Assuming the project goes to plan, the estimated valuation in 2037 would be approximately $51 million, according to city documents.

Alderwomen Becky Drury and Darla Drew expressed support for the proposed TIF, with Drew saying she trusted the city’s Tax Increment Financing Committee and Planning Commission, which recommended approving the proposal.

Scott, though, sounded less than impressed.

“Would this current development continue forward without the TIF?” she asked. “That has to be the primary question that the council members should be asking themselves. It’s (TIF committee) such an initial committee that there is no real data. It’s a concept. Now that I’ve sat on the TIF committee, I don’t put a lot of weight into that committee’s recommendation. Sorry, I need more information than what they get.”

City attorney Joel Landeen and Community Development Director Ken Young said the committee’s role, and the city’s criteria for TIF applications, may soon change.

“Currently we are in the process of reviewing the TIF policies,” Young said, adding that the state legislature is also looking at revising the regulations and criteria for TIF applications, creating a tighter process and stronger criteria that must be met. “We are looking forward to seeing what comes out of the state legislature on their proposals.”

But such discussions and the possibility of changes in the future matter little to Shafai’s project and application.

“I just want to caution you that this has been on the drawing board for a long, long time, for almost 10 months, and there has been a lot of holding costs,” Shafai told Scott. “Dragging this along will not get Promise Road built. I guarantee you that.”

A roadway just west and parallel to U.S. Highway 16, called U.S. Highway 16 Service Road, meets the city’s code for providing access and utilities to the proposed buildings, Shafai and city long range planning manager Patsy Horton explained to committee members. The proposed Promise Road isn’t about necessity but safety and preparation for the future, Shafai said.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation plans to overhaul the intersection of U.S. Highway 16 and Catron Blvd in the next 10 years, and preliminary designs include the elimination of U.S. Highway 16 Service Road.

In other action, the committee recommended:

• Authorizing city leadership to sign an agreement that would effectively allow the city buy out the Rapid City Area School District’s remaining ownership in the city/school administration center at 300 Sixth St. The city would pay the school district $2,904,450 to gain ownership of the entire building as school district offices and staff look to relocate to the recently vacated Black Hills Energy building at 625 Ninth St. along with the YMCA. Details of the agreement were not finalized at the time of the committee decision, but Landeen assured committee members the documents would be ready for the upcoming Rapid City Council meeting on Monday.

• Approving the second reading of an ordinance crafted to allow artisan distilleries to operate in downtown Rapid City as a conditional use. Per South Dakota law, artisan distillery production is limited to 50,000 gallons or less of distilled spirits per year. Randal Decker, part-owner of Black Hills Contraband, petitioned the city for the ordinance as his distilling company looks to relocate from Box Elder to Rapid City and open a distillery and bar. In a Sept. 18 letter to city staff, Decker said his company was interested in moving into the building currently housing Hay Camp Brewing Company at 601 Kansas City St., though the distillery would be located in a separate part of the building with its own address. In a Journal interview, Decker was noncommittal about that location but said they were still interested in relocating to Rapid City.

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Regional to open $100M health care campus in Spearfish
Land donation sparks new development for growing community

Call it a healthy kick-start for a new development planned in Spearfish.

Developers of Dakota Meadows, a planned major development on the north edge of Spearfish, have donated 40 acres of land for creation of a new health care campus to serve not only Spearfish, but the Northern Hills and eastern Wyoming.

Rapid City-based Regional Health announced the land donation Wednesday as the kickoff of a fundraising campaign to raise $50 million needed to complete the project, expected to cost more than $100 million.

“The Spearfish market is one of the most vibrant regions of South Dakota, and this investment demonstrates our intention to provide the most advanced health care possible and meet the community’s changing health care needs for many years to come,” said Brent Phillips, Regional Health president and CEO, in a release.

“As we move forward, I believe the Northern Hills can serve as a rural health care model for the entire country."

The land, part of the Dakota Meadows development announced more than two years ago, is north of Kerwin Lane on the northeast corner of the intersection of Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 85.

The new health care campus would allow Regional Health to consolidate about a dozen facilities, including Spearfish Regional Hospital and other clinics currently housed in owned and leased space in Spearfish, into a single campus.

Similar projects consolidating hospital, clinic and urgent care facilities in close proximity have been completed or are currently underway in other Regional Health markets in Custer, Sturgis and Lead-Deadwood.

“We see great patient benefit in providing our communities with integrated services in one convenient location,” said Thomas Worsley, president of Regional Health Spearfish Hospital and Market.

Dakota Meadows was proposed as a large mixed-use residential, retail and office community.

Spearfish realtor and developer Joe Jorgensen joined the Hoff and Uttke families in the partnership, called 2-Bar-T Ranch LLC.

“We’ve been talking to (Regional Health) for quite some time about what they wanted to do, and they selected that side of town, where they thought it would best fit, not only for Spearfish but for the Northern Hills, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota,” Jorgensen said. “With the interchange of (Highway) 85 and I-90, it’s just a good point."

Spearfish Mayor Dana Boke also voiced her enthusiasm for the new investment in the community of 12,000.

“This new health care campus will not only allow us to attract more physicians and their support teams to the Spearfish area, but it also benefits the entire western South Dakota region.”

Kory Menken, executive director of the Spearfish Economic Development Corp., said the new hospital and clinic campus will be a welcome addition to the Spearfish economy. With more than 630 employees, Spearfish Regional Health and its supporting clinics are already the community’s largest employer, he said.

“This proposed expansion would amplify that impact by creating more jobs and generating increased revenue within our community. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Regional Health on this exciting project,” Menken said.

Jorgensen said the announcement should jolt interest in the development, currently planned to include a sports arena, retail, hospitality and other professional space along with residential development.

The 750-acre tract is mostly range land. The company is working with Lawrence County and state transportation department officials to relocate a county and state highway shop located on the site.

“That’ll be a big traffic generator for that area and hopefully it’ll generate interest from other businesses that want to be in that location,” Jorgensen said. “It’ll be the kick-start and a game changer for Spearfish."

Geoff Preston / Submitted photo 

One of the aquariums used in the Trout in the Classroom program.

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Surge in prison population tied to meth 'epidemic'

South Dakota’s meth epidemic has so fueled the rise in crime that the state corrections department is now struggling with an influx of prisoners.

The state’s prison population currently stands at 3,913 men and women, compared with 3,735 last year and 3,557 in 2015, according to figures presented by Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk to the state corrections commission on Wednesday.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult for us in trying to manage our population,” Kaemingk told six commission members in a meeting at the Rapid City minimum security facility. The commission was established to help the corrections department examine criminal justice issues and come up with responses.

“The meth epidemic is the driving force behind what we are seeing,” Kaemingk said. “Frankly, if we do not control our southern border with Mexico and methamphetamine coming in, I don’t know if there’s a blue sky that we’re gonna be seeing in the distant future.”

People incarcerated on meth offenses encompass both new offenders and convicted individuals who violated the terms of their probation, he said in an interview.

The majority of state inmates are actually nonviolent offenders, Kaemingk told the commission members, including three state legislators and a circuit judge. At the end of June, the secretary's data showed, 54 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women inmates fell in this category.

To provide nonviolent female offenders an alternative to prison, the department is setting up a Pennington County program that would allow women to get drug and/or alcohol treatment while living in a home.

The three-year program, supported by a $1.75 million grant from the Department of Justice, aims to get going by May. The corrections department is now reviewing the bids of potential service providers and plans to begin recruitment and training in January, the commission was told.

The program is targeted at Pennington County female offenders since they made up a quarter of the state’s female prison population — the most from any county — when the grant was awarded in October 2016. It is expected to benefit at least 100 women.

Kaemingk discussed also the problem of minimum security inmates escaping from corrections facilities or job sites. This year, around 18 inmates committed the violation, including a man who was later found shot to death and another who is facing a murder charge in Rapid City.

From interviews with 19 escapees who agreed to speak about their violation, Kaemingk said some attributed the behavior to mental health issues, others to family problems.

“They felt helpless sitting here, and they decided to walk away,” he said.

The majority of escapes apparently involved “no planning,” and Kaemingk said some inmates described their behavior as “stupid” and regrettable.

The nine-person commission, which meets three to four times a year, will reconvene in another town sometime in the spring. Its upcoming agenda will include voting for a new chairperson after its former head, state Rep. Craig Tieszen, died in a kayaking accident in the south Pacific last week.

“We sure miss our chairman,” state Sen. Troy Heinert, the commission vice-chairman, said at the end of the meeting. The group had spoken about Tieszen's contributions before they got down to the day's agenda.