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Chris Huber, Journal staff 

Northwestern Warehouse Co. owner Jason Koppman works on a drift with his snowblower Thursday morning in downtown Rapid City.

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Digging out: sunny skies, warmer temperatures predicted for weekend

The weather is expected to take a 180-degree turn with light winds, sunny skies and warm temperatures today and through the weekend after Wednesday's bomb cyclone blizzard roared through western South Dakota, creating whiteouts, leaving icy roads and towering snow drifts in some areas.

There will be "a lot of sunshine" and "much less wind" in Rapid City and throughout the region, Jeff Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City, said Thursday afternoon.

Rapid City Regional Airport resumed service at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The Rapid City school district will remain closed today. Rapid City offices, public transit, landfill, trash and the downtown library will be open.

Johnson said the temperatures could climb into the 40s by Sunday, which will lead to other concerns. “We'll have to keep an eye" on possible flooding, he said.

The blizzard brought winds and gusts ranging from 50 to 60 miles per hour throughout the region. Rapid City recorded the strongest gust of 70 mph at 5 a.m. Thursday, Johnson said.

Johnson said the storm dumped five inches of snow in downtown Rapid City. The Southern Hills received the least snow, with Hot Springs recording two inches.

Kadoka received the most snow in the region with 18.3 inches as of 7 a.m. Thursday, Johnson said. With 16 inches, the Deerfield Reservoir, 20 miles west of Hill City, received the most snow in the Black Hills. The Northern Hills also saw snow totals of 13 inches in Lead and up to eight inches in Spearfish.

The town of Pine Ridge had recorded five inches of snow as of 9:30 a.m. In addition to snow drifts, the Pine Ridge Reservation was also dealing with flooding, according to the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Emergency Management department.

Snowdrifts up to 10-feet tall in Mission prevented trucks from reaching a volunteer firefighter's home that caught fire early Thursday morning.

First responders said Pennington County residents mostly listened to warnings not to drive Wednesday.

It was "a lot slower than we anticipated," said Ryan Stillman, maintenance officer for Pennington County Search and Rescue. He said the team went out a few times to help stranded motorists push their vehicles back onto a drivable surface. Rescuers got around using a snow cat, a pickup truck with chains on the tires, and an SUV with tracks instead of wheels.

It was a "pretty quiet night," said Jim Bussell, spokesman for the Rapid City Fire Department. He said most calls were related to medical needs, but the storm did make it harder to get to patients.

To reach them, Bussell said, the department relied on high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles with tire chains. The department also used the Hägglunds Bandvagn 206, a tracked all-terrain Swedish military vehicle that it purchased for $95,000 after Winter Storm Atlas.

The Bandvagn picked up a patient in Box Elder​ where the snow was too high for an ambulance, Bussell said. It also picked up stranded drivers.

PHOTOS: Rapid City digs out from bomb cyclone

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After Keystone XL bill package, SD tribes pull out of flag ceremony

A week after the Legislature pushed through Gov. Kristi Noem's Keystone XL pipeline bill package, four of South Dakota's tribal chairmen are rescinding their tribes from a ceremony to be held in Pierre.

Chairmen of the Oglala Sioux and Crow Creek Sioux tribes released statements on Monday, requesting that their tribes not be included in the ceremony at the state Capitol, where Noem's administration plans to erect the flags of South Dakota's nine federally recognized tribes "as a sign of unity."

Lower Brule and the Yankton Sioux tribes soon issued their own similar such statements. 

On Feb. 27, State-Tribal Relations Day, Noem announced her intentions to hold the ceremony. Less than one week later, Noem unveiled her Keystone XL bill package.

"The purpose of these bills is to punish anyone who opposes the agenda of outside oil conglomerates like TransCanada," Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner said in Monday's release. "Their effects will be to violate the constitutional rights of South Dakotans and Americans as well as the treaty rights of the Oglala nationals."

Senate Bill 189 establishes civil penalties for "riot boosting," or contributing money to or encouraging violent pipeline protesters. Senate Bill 190 creates a funding source for extraordinary costs attributed to pipeline protests, sourced from local, state and federal dollars, as well as contributions from the pipeline company.

Noem said she consulted lawmakers, law enforcement and TransCanada in her development of Senate bills 189 and 190. Tribal leaders said they were not consulted.

"I’m well aware that some of our (tribal) leaders are not in favor of the pipeline, although we should all be in favor of it being peaceful," Noem said when she introduced the package.

In a March 6 joint hearing on the bill package, Matt McCauley, who serves as legal counsel to Noem's office, said tribes weren't consulted because the proposed pipeline route does not intersect with tribal land. The Legislature then suspended legislative rules in order to pass both bills by the deadline.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Chairman Lester Thompson said in Monday's release that Noem "deliberately omitted tribal nations from any consultation or discussions."

Thompson said he had "high expectations" for Noem to build state-tribal relations, but "the actions of Gov. Noem and the state Legislature have destroyed our trust and the hopeful advancement toward reconciliation."

The Oglala, Crow Creek and Yankton Sioux tribes asked that their flags not be shown in the Capitol display. 

"I am respectfully requesting that our flag be removed so we do not have to come and remove it ourselves," Bear Runner said. "Our flag represents a commitment to protect Mother Earth, to respect the interdependent relationship we have with what westerners call 'natural resources.'"

He continued, "Until our free, prior and informed consent is obtained with respect to the Keystone XL pipeline, we will not allow our flag to fly in the governor’s rotunda."

Lower Brule's statement did not specifically ask for its flag's removal, though chairman Boyd Gourneau sharply criticized SB189 and 190, and the governor's lack of consultation with tribal leaders. 

"We realize that our State's nine Tribes do not own all of the land we have originally inhabited within our great State," Gourneau wrote. "However as the original stewards of this very land, it is natural that we expect some regard and consultation during the preparation of legislation that would surely affect the wellbeing of our environment." 

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Work begins on four-story Marriott along I-90

Work has begun on a four-story, 174-room Marriott hotel that is just east of Elk Vale Road off Interstate 90 and in Box Elder city limits.

The hotel will be managed by Liv Hospitality of Rapid City, which operates casinos and hotels in Deadwood and hotels in Rapid City, including the WaTiki Indoor Waterpark adjacent to the new project.

“This will be our largest single hotel in terms of room count,” Caleb Arceneaux, the CEO of Liv Hospitality, said in an email to the Journal. “The corporate and military markets will find this hotel to be especially appealing due to proximity to Ellsworth Air Force Base, the busy I-90 corridor, the airport and convenient access to our national landmarks.”

When completed in 2020, the 109,142-square-foot Courtyard by Marriott will have meeting spaces that can accommodate as many as 500 people, according to Consolidated Construction Co. of Rapid City, the project contractor.

The project is being built at the same time as discussions continue between Liv Hospitality and Box Elder city officials for an event center that would be located near the new Marriott and I-90's exit 61, according to Arceneaux.

“We continue to work closely with the city of Box Elder on the complex process of the public/private partnership to ensure the community gets the facility we all desire,” he said.

The mayor of Box Elder acknowledged that discussion, which was initiated in 2017, is ongoing.

“We are still working on the Box Elder event center and hope to know more by summer,” Larry Larson said Monday.

In April 2017, the Box Elder City Council was presented with a resolution of intent to create a business improvement district that would levy a special assessment tax against hotels managed by Liv Hospitality, including the WaTiki Indoor Water Park, Residence Inn by Marriott, Fairfield Inn & Suites and LaQuinta Inn & Suites.

Those funds would then have been used to build the event center as well as sidewalks, infrastructure, utilities and parking lots. The proposed cost for the project was estimated at $20 million.

At the time, Arceneaux said the event center would be a multipurpose facility that could host concerts, comedy shows, conventions and other events.

Larson said the city continues to look at how the project will be financed.

"We are still in the process of deciding how the event center will be funded," he said in an email.