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SD farmers receive $19.4 million from Trump program, database shows

About $19.4 million has been paid to South Dakota farmers so far by a Trump administration program to offset the negative effects of international trade disputes, according to a database obtained and released by the Environmental Working Group.

The EWG said Monday that it had obtained data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a Freedom of Information Act request. The nationwide data covers 87,704 payments made through Oct. 31 from USDA’s Market Facilitation Program, or MFP, totaling $356 million. That’s less than 8 percent of roughly $5 billion expected to be paid out during the first round of the program's funding.

The data show 2,895 payments to farmers and farm operations in South Dakota. At the low end, some individual farmers have received payments as low as $2, the data show, while the top South Dakota recipient is Pugh Bros., of Miller, with $207,860 in payments.

Fifty-five of the payments in South Dakota have gone to Hutterite colonies, which have received a total of $1.89 million.

MFP is administered by the Farm Service Agency. For each commodity covered, a payment rate has been established based on the severity of the trade disruption and the expected period of adjustment to new trade patterns. A USDA website lists rates including $1.65 per bushel for soybeans, 86 cents per bushel for sorghum, 14 cents per bushel for wheat, 1 cent per bushel for corn, and 12 cents per hundredweight for dairy.

To calculate the MFP payment, the applicable commodity rate is multiplied by 50 percent of the producer’s total 2018 actual production.


Local
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Christmas coming to Storybook Island
Storybook Island hopes Christmas lights attract record number of visitors

Fifteen miles of lights will twinkle on the park’s 8.5 acres of storybook figures and play sets. Executive Director Connie LeZotte and her staff have been hanging lights for about two months and are putting finishing touches on the display this week.

“We really would like to beat our record (number of visitors for this event), which is 27,000 people. It’s an extraordinary amount of people who come to the park and take in all of the lights and ride the train and help this park remain admission-free and the sidewalks good and paint jobs done. That’s why we do Christmas Nights of Light — to keep the park open,” LeZotte said.

“We have several new pieces that are going to be in the park. Most of the visiting children know about them. We have a helicopter that’s new and a beautiful outdoor symphony that’s so much fun to play on, even for big people,” LeZotte said.

Christmas Nights of Light is Storybook Island’s biggest off-season fundraiser. Keeping the park operating, well-maintained and adding new attractions costs $575,000 annually, LeZotte said.

Some funds from Christmas Nights of Light will help pay for a carousel house that’s under construction in the park. The house will shelter Storybook Island’s rare vintage Allan Herschell traveling carousel, which was made between 1932 and 1942 in upstate New York.

“There’s only five working traveling carousels left in United States now, and we have one of them. We’re pretty excited about that,” LeZotte said.

When completed, the carousel house will resemble the circular barns and stables built in New York in the early 1900s, LeZotte said. The building’s round shape will complement the carousel. The carousel itself, with 30 wooden horses, needs to be refurbished and its lighting restored and will require ongoing maintenance, LeZotte said.

To follow the progress on the carousel house, go to Storybook Island’s Facebook page, facebook.com/storybookisland/, where photos of the construction are posted.

LeZotte hopes the carousel house will be open by summer 2019 in time for Storybook Island’s 60th anniversary. “It’s going to be an absolutely stunning piece for western South Dakota,” she said.

Meanwhile, she’s excited for visitors to see Storybook Island decked out for Christmas.

“We really would like to have guests come through the park and just enjoy themselves. It really is a family tradition to come to Storybook Island,” LeZotte said. “I want people to come and see a place like Storybook Island lit with Christmas lights, because the more people we have come in, the more of a guarantee we will be able to keep park admission free (during the summer). We’re enthusiastic about having people come and see what we’ve done in the park.”


PHOTOS: See Christmas Nights of Light in Years past

Christmas Nights of Light opens Friday

Journal file  

Benjamin Warne talks with Santa Claus before telling him what he wants for Christmas at the opening night of Christmas Nights of Light at Storybook Island in 2013.


Govt-and-politics
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Public hearings set for Croell mining permit application

Pennington County will kick off 2019 with a set of public hearings regarding a controversial mining permit application.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, the Pennington County Board of Commissioners approved a pair of special meetings for Jan. 16-17 in the Commission Chambers in the County Administration Building at 130 Kansas City St. to hear public comment and make a decision on Croell Redi-Mix Inc.'s mining and construction permit application. 

The meetings are scheduled to start at 9 a.m. The Jan. 17 meeting will only take place if the board doesn't reach a decision on Jan. 16. 

Croell has applied for a construction and mining permit to operate Perli Pit Quarry, 13840 U.S. Highway 16, south of Rapid City near Bear Country USA. Previous attempts to expand the mine have proven controversial, even spawning court battles

In December, the South Dakota Supreme Court halted the expansion, saying Croell needed a mining permit as well as a construction permit.

A set of hearings previously planned for Dec. 10-11 were canceled due to issues with legal notices not being published properly. 

Commissioners approved the January special meeting date 4-1, with Commissioner George Ferebee abstaining from the vote and Commissioner Deb Hadcock voting via telephone. Ferebee didn't list a reason for abstaining, but his term as a commissioner expires Dec. 31, as does fellow outgoing Commissioner Ron Buskerud. 

In other business, the commission:

  • Approved a Warrant of Appointment for Joseph Miller as the county's new highway superintendent 4-1, with Ferebee voting against. Miller is scheduled to start on Dec. 1.
  • Took no action following an executive session for commissioners to consult with legal council on "pending legal matters." 
  • Approved November's vouchers for $7,521,260.62 3-2, with Commissioners Mark DiSanto and Ferebee voting against their approval. 

AP photo, Andrew Harnik 

President Donald Trump pardons "Peas", one of the National Thanksgiving Turkeys, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Tuesday.


Crime-and-courts
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Pine Ridge woman gets 10 years for assaulting officers with rifle

While restrained in the back of a police car in Pine Ridge last year, Connie Wilson managed to escape from a handcuff, break into the back of the vehicle, and grab beer and a rifle. 

After drinking some beer, the 55-year-old woman loaded the rifle, pointed it at two officers and fired the weapon as one of them managed to steer the barrel toward the ground.  

That's according to a statement of facts document signed by Wilson before she pleaded guilty and was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to 10 years in prison — the shortest punishment possible.

For the charge of discharging a firearm while committing a violent crime, Judge Jeffrey Viken sentenced Wilson to 10 years in prison, the federally mandated minimum sentence. He could have sentenced her up to life in prison. For the charge of assaulting a federal officer, he gave her time served, which deviated from the sentencing guidelines of 46 to 57 months. 

Two other charges — assault with a deadly weapon and assault with intent to commit murder — were dropped as part of a plea deal. 

Wilson's actions "were so deliberate, so sustained, so aggressive" according to the police video, said Viken, adding that this could have been a homicide if the officer hadn't taken quick action. 

But Viken said he recognized the "traumatic events" in Wilson's life. Wilson is the daughter of Dick Wilson, who was chairman of the Pine Ridge Reservation during the American Indian Movement uprising in 1973. 

Viken also said because the tribal officers she assaulted are considered federal officers, she's being tried in federal court, which has harsher mandatory minimum laws than tribal and state courts. This "creates sentencing disparities" he said. 

Three sisters of Wilson spoke about the trauma they grew up with, how they were always around guns for self defense and how police and U.S. marshals had to protect them from threats. Saunie Wilson said her sister also suffered the loss of her daughter, who died at age 15 from methamphetamine. 

Some of the sisters said Wilson's actions stemmed from her being highly intoxicated and that she needed treatment for PTSD and alcoholism. Some also questioned the officers, asking how could they have put alcohol and a weapon in the back of their vehicle. 

The sentencing outcome was what Thomas Harmon, Wilson's defense lawyer, had asked for. He cited Wilson's age, her need for rehab and said there's "something to be said" about the officers putting those items in the car. 

But Eric Kelderman, assistant U.S. attorney, objected to the sentence. He had asked for 10 years for the firearm charge plus a sentence within the guidelines for the assault charge. Federal law would have required those two sentences to run one after the other. 

"The blaming of the officers is offensive," said Kelderman, calling them long-term "well respected" officers. He said Wilson used "extraordinary effort" to break through a bolted down plastic barrier in order to grab the alcohol and rifle from the rear cargo unit. 

"Over and over and over," Wilson announced her intent to shoot and kill the officers, Kelderman said. "This is a person who was acting very deliberately." 

Kelderman said the video recorded Wilson saying "let me put them cops down" and wishing she had shot them in the head. 

Viken said his judgement was appropriate given that the actions of the assault charge are the same that led to the firearm one. 

Wilson ended up in the back of a police car on August 29, 2017, when she was arrested after a possible stolen vehicle was found outside her home in Pine Ridge, according to the statement of facts document. 

She was left handcuffed in an enclosed cage in the patrol car as Oscar Hudspeth, the arresting officer, called for help with the investigation. After John Pettigrew arrived, the two officers found a rifle in Wilson's home and placed it in the cargo unit. 

Wilson eventually removed her left handcuff, broke into the cargo unit, took the beer and rifle, drank the alcohol and loaded the weapon.

The officers eventually returned and Hudspeth opened a rear door. Wilson screamed she would shoot the officers and pointed the gun at Hudspeth, the document says. She then pointed the weapon toward Pettigrew after he opened the other rear door. 

As Pettigrew grabbed the barrel of the rifle and pushed it downward, Wilson fired and the bullet went through the vehicle's floorboard. The officers were then able to take the gun away from Wilson.