There might not be enough money in the state budget to do the land swap that has to precede creating a state park in Spearfish Canyon, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Friday.
At least, not for the time being.
Daugaard made the comments during a news conference at the Capitol in Pierre. The Journal phoned in and asked the governor whether he will push ahead with his park proposal or withdraw the plan because of the loud and organized public opposition to it.
The governor did not answer the question definitively but said he has been surprised by the opposition and added, “I wonder if there’ll be enough money, anyway.”
Daugaard then briefly reviewed the status of state sales-tax collections, which have been weaker than projected, and said Feb. 15 is the date scheduled for the Legislature’s adoption of new revenue projections.
An estimated $2.5 million is needed to proceed with the state-federal land swap. Daugaard has included that amount in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 and has filed legislation seeking approval of the expense.
But on the issue of funding, he said Friday, “That might not be there, so we’ll see.”
Daugaard has been working to create Spearfish Canyon State Park since at least January 2016, when he publicly announced the idea. The plan would include a swap of some state-owned grasslands east of the Black Hills for some national forest land in Spearfish Canyon. The state would pair its newly acquired land with some land it already owns in the Savoy area of the canyon to create the park.
Additionally, the plan includes transferring Bismarck Lake from the national forest system into Custer State Park.
Most of the land that would be swapped by the state is controlled by the Office of School and Public Lands. The state constitution says the school and public lands trust fund would have to be reimbursed for the appraised value of the swapped land, which is why Daugaard is seeking $2.5 million from the Legislature.
Senate Bill 114 would make the $2.5 million appropriation, but the bill has not been scheduled for any legislative action since it was filed Jan. 25.
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Public opposition to Daugaard’s park plan welled up over the past year and erupted Jan. 26 in Spearfish at the first public input meeting on the proposal. About 400 people showed up and vigorously expressed their opposition, complete with dozens of signs bearing the word “no.”
Daugaard said Friday that he regrets the timing of a state-issued release the morning of the public meeting, in which he pledged never to charge an entrance fee if a state park is created in Spearfish Canyon.
“My guess is that unless they picked it up through social media, many of those who attended the meeting were unaware of the decision not to charge fees before they even arrived, so they were pretty well charged up and ready to fight the fees,” Daugaard said. "And then I think the psychology of the matter is, 'Well, I'm still opposed anyway.'"
After Friday’s news conference, the Journal asked David Miller of Rapid City, a leading critic of the park plan, if the opposition would have been muted by better timing of the no-fee pledge.
“I don’t believe that for a moment,” Miller said.
Miller pointed to previous media coverage of no-fee pledges by past state officials and said the fee issue had already been resolved in the minds of many park opponents before Daugaard formalized it with his pledge.
Opponents have also expressed concern about environmental damage to Spearfish Canyon from the added infrastructure and extra visitation that a state park would bring, and about the perceived unfairness of trading state grasslands for federal forest land.
Miller said he does not consider the park plan dead yet and is waiting for the death of Senate Bill 114 — the $2.5 million appropriation — before declaring anything resembling a victory for park opponents.
Daugaard sounded resigned as he spoke of the park plan Friday, and he notably made no pledge to continue fighting for it.
“I guess I’m just learning as I go here as governor,” Daugaard said. “Sometimes ideas that I think are good, not everyone does. And that’s all right.”