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Geoff Preston / Geoff Preston Journal staff 

Black Hills State's Rachel Erickson drives to the basket during the Yellow Jackets' game against South Dakota School of Mines Feb. 6 at the King Center.

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County to hold special meeting on mining law

The Pennington County Board of Commissioners will hold a special public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13 to discuss a mining ordinance almost two years in the making.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, it seemed the true work is just getting started.

The county’s proposed amendment to its ordinance dealing with mining permits drew a large crowd of concerned citizens to the county commission meeting Tuesday morning, prompting county commissioners to schedule a special meeting — before any discussion of the matter — solely for discussion of the first reading of the proposed changes.

Doing so, commissioners agreed, would give the citizens time to enumerate their many qualms. Those who spoke Tuesday said they would not be able to attend the Feb. 13 meeting while those who could were instructed to save their comments for next week’s meeting.

Tuesday’s speakers included Philimon Two Eagle of the Sicangu Lakota Treaty Council, who read a prepared statement by Rosebud Sioux Tribe President William Kindl that referenced the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty in which the Black Hills were recognized as part of the Great Sioux Reservation and set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people.

Cheryl Angel, a Lakota elder, activist, and Rosebud reservation member born in the Black Hills, added that the archeological significance of the hills and areas under question weren’t being properly represented. The state historic preservation officers repeatedly failed to consult with tribal historic preservation officers, she said.

“Our sites, our people, our places that are sacred to us aren’t being recognized and they’re being endangered,” she said.

Other citizens brought forward different complaints, including Nancy Hilding, president of the Prairie Hills Audobon Society, who said the ordinance should require all mining operations to apply for a conditional use permit and that the board of commissioners, not the county planning commission, should make the final decision on mining permits.

Currently, the planning commission makes decisions on mining permits. Their decision can then be appealed by affected citizens to the board of commissioners but the appeal, according to the new ordinance, would need to be filed within five business days of the planning commission’s decision. Hilding also opined that even if a mining company fulfills all the requirements of the ordinance, the commission should still have the discretion to deny the permit.

Many other citizens in attendance remained seated and silent, ostensibly waiting to comment at the Feb. 13 meeting.

Other than a two paragraph section titled Section 507-B, mining for mineral extraction — gold mining, for example — is not mentioned or addressed in the ordinance. 507B was labeled a stop gap measure by assistant state’s attorney Michaele Hoffman, who noted that the county’s current mining moratorium would end on April 5.

The formation of a separate committee to deal with ordinances related to hard rock mining was briefly mentioned as a possibility in the near future but no firm declarations were made.

The ordinance amendment to be discussed on Feb. 13 comes after a county committee was formed in April 2016 to discuss and rewrite large sections of the ordinance, especially as it relates to mining permits, following a decision to deny Croell Redi-Mix a permit to expand their limestone mining operations. Croell Redi-Mix supplies raw materials for concrete and other products through its limestone mining at a site about one mile east of the Bear Country USA drive-thru wildlife park along U.S. Highway 16, south of Rapid City.

The county’s denial was eventually appealed by Croell in a circuit court, which reversed the county’s decision. The county commission then appealed the circuit court’s decision to the South Dakota Supreme Court, which ruled in December 2017 that Croell needed to obtain a mining permit, something it claimed was unnecessary in its circuit court argument since it was zoned A-1 Agricultural District, which allows for temporary quarries permitting the extraction of sand, gravel or minerals with only a construction permit.

Police chief: Shelter partly to blame for homeless woman's death

The Rapid City Police Department is asking temporary shelters that have popped up to take in the homeless this winter to stop operating due to public safety concerns.

In an email addressed to Mayor Steve Allender and the Rapid City Council on Monday, Police Chief Karl Jegeris said the pop-up shelters unintentionally encouraged drinking among people with substance abuse problems since they had no policies that barred drinking.

“I felt they were creating more harm than good with their efforts,” Jegeris wrote in the email that the police department shared with local media, “due to enabling and indirectly encouraging our city’s at-risk inebriated homeless population by providing a false sense of security by offering to locate and provide warmth, which could encourage continued drinking.”

Jegeris’ worries include the eruption of violence at the shelters, inappropriate contact between men and women, as well as people going back out in the cold drunk, the police chief said in an interview Tuesday.

“This effort feels good for those that have been volunteering,” he said, “but in the end, if you look at it from the public safety standpoint, it’s actually doing more harm than good.”

Fifty-four-year-old Connie Red Nest, who was found dead by an Interstate 190 bridge on Sunday, was among the people who stayed at a pop-up shelter Friday night, Jegeris said. Her partner, 58-year-old Ernie Evans, was also found dead nearby. Their cause of death won’t be available for another couple of weeks, but authorities suspect hypothermia.

The Friday shelter, located in a church basement, housed people who were drunk, brought alcohol inside and created disturbances that prevented people from resting, Jegeris said.

“That actually exposed that group to greater harm this weekend, and we had tragic results with a death that, as I would say, had a very direct correlation to the sheltering,” he said.

His email to the mayor and city council mentioned pop-up shelters organized by Cathie Harris, who runs the local aid group RV Ministry.

Temporary shelters began appearing in town after One Rapid City, a local organization, called a meeting Jan. 4 to come up with solutions to the lack of an emergency shelter after a homeless man was found dead on the ground Christmas morning. An autopsy showed the 69-year-old died from hypothermia due to exposure.

The pop-up shelters opened their doors on different nights, including Canyon Lake United Methodist Church on Jan. 12 and First Presbyterian Church on Jan. 15.

If the shelters provide a regulated environment, which doesn’t allow drugs or alcohol, the police department would “be very supportive” of their work. Otherwise, Jegeris is asking well-meaning members of the community to help out established nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army, Youth & Family Services and the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, the city’s lone overnight shelter for the homeless. (The Mission has a zero-tolerance policy toward drugs or alcohol.)

Mayor Allender, in a written statement Tuesday, said he supports Jegeris’ position on the pop-up shelters at the same time that local leaders are working on long-term solutions.

“While temporary efforts may be well-intentioned and heartfelt, they can result in tragic consequences when they are ill-equipped and are not accompanied by the resources, services and personnel needed to address the many issues that surround the homeless.”

The Pennington County Health Facility, slated to open this summer, and the Rapid City Collective Impact’s proposed Transformation Center would tackle the cause of homelessness rather than just treat their symptoms, Allender has said.

Meanwhile, people who need shelter amid the freezing weather can contact the police and they’ll be assisted with finding a warm place to stay, Jegeris said. Even if the Mission or the county detox facility aren’t able to take in people, “they will always make sure no one is left out in the cold.”

Cathie Harris and One Rapid City declined to comment, but said they’ll release a statement this morning in response to the police chief’s letter to the mayor and city council.

The pop-up shelters are closed until further notice, said Ramona Herrington of One Rapid City.

Lawmakers advance tobacco ban bill

PIERRE | South Dakota would join five other states that have raised the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 under a bill that passed its first legislative test on Tuesday.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 to advance the plan to the chamber's floor. The panel passed the bill at the urging of health organizations, but lobbyists for stores that sell tobacco opposed it.

Megan Myers, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association in South Dakota, said the state has the opportunity to pass a policy that can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care costs. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in South Dakota and the nation, she said.

"Simply put, tobacco use is not a right of passage or a sign of adulthood," Myers said. "It's a gateway to a lifetime of addiction to the only legally available, over-the-counter product in the United States that, when used as directed, can kill you and often those people around you."

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine, along with many localities, have increased the tobacco age to 21.

Larry Mann, a lobbyist for Rapid City-based M.G. Oil Company, said the sale of fuel isn't necessarily a highly profitable business, and in-store sales such as tobacco are a significant portion of convenience stores' profit.

Republican Rep. Tim Rounds, an opponent, said he despises cigarette smoke, but said tobacco use is a choice that adults make.

"Tobacco is icky," he said. "But people choose to do it. Adults choose to do it, and that's where I'm going to stand on this bill."

Legislative staff will do a fiscal review of the bill's potential effects.

Man pleads guilty to robbery that preceded Loaf 'N Jug stabbing

A man admitted Tuesday to robbing a Rapid City convenience store clerk shortly before the woman was stabbed to death by his companion.

Cody Grady, 20, of Rapid City pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery at a hearing that was initially set to discuss his upcoming trial.

He had been charged with alternative counts of first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the January 2017 fatal stabbing of Kasie Lord, a 45-year-old clerk at the Loaf 'N Jug on Mount Rushmore Road.

Grady was also facing alternative counts of grand theft and aiding and abetting first-degree robbery for a beer theft that police said preceded Lord’s killing. Investigators said he took a case, or 24 cans, of Budweiser beer.

At the Pennington County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon, Grady admitted stealing beer, but said he wasn't involved in Lord's stabbing.

He went to the Loaf ‘N Jug “with the intent to steal some beer,” Grady told 7th Circuit Judge Heidi Linngren when asked for details of his offense. Grady said he got into a “tug of war” with Lord over the case, prevailed and left the store.

This happened before Lord was stabbed, and he didn’t see the attack, Grady told the court.

His companion on that Jan. 18 early morning walk to the store, 17-year-old Carlos Quevedo, pleaded guilty in November to second-degree murder. Authorities earlier said Lord had been stabbed at least 38 times and collapsed at the store’s parking lot. Police said the robbery and stabbing were captured on the store’s surveillance video.

Quevedo, now 18, said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at that time and had blacked out during the attack. He is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

Grady is expected to receive a 7-1/2 year prison sentence under his plea deal with the Pennington County State’s Attorney’s Office – which received the judge’s agreement. Second-degree robbery carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Grady will also be given credit for the time he has served in county jail, and his other charges will be dismissed at sentencing.

Lord’s family also agreed to the plea deal, Deputy State’s Attorney Sarah Morrison said in response to a question from Linngren.

Grady is scheduled for sentencing March 21. He will be eligible for parole after serving 40 percent of his sentence, defense attorney Tim Rensch said in an interview after Tuesday’s hearing.

Rensch said the defense and prosecution’s decision to enter into the plea deal was the result of his client’s approaching trial, scheduled to run for two weeks starting Feb. 20.

“There’s nothing like the clarity of mind that you achieve from a trial that’s very close,” Rensch said.

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