By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – After signing a work order with the State of South Dakota at their last meeting on April 19, to begin work on an at-grade crossing around the now-closed Chilson Bridge, the Fall River County Commissioners are now reconsidering that decision after area resident Lyle Rudloff pressed them at last week’s May 1 meeting to build a new bridge instead.
Rudloff, who has spoken numerous times before at commission meetings regarding his desire to build bridge, said he spoke recently to representatives with S.D. Dept. of Transportation and was informed that the state was in favor of supporting the project with 80 percent of the funds needed, regardless whether it was a completely new bridge or a new at-grade road crossing. Rudloff said he was told that the only reason the state went with the at-grade crossing concept was because the county commissioners chose that alternative over the bridge. Rudloff said one of the people telling him this information was SD-DOT Engineering Supervisor Doug Kinniburgh.
A frustrated Commission Chair Joe Falkenburg disagreed with that notion however and said the county was advised by the state to go with the at-grade crossing due to it being the lower-cost alternative. It was however pointed out by Commissioner Paul Nabholz that, while the initial construction of the bridge or the at-grade crossing would be about the same, the long-term and lifetime costs of the road would be considerably less due to the cost of routine bridge maintenance and inspections.
“It really bothers me that they can tell you one thing, but us another thing,” said Falkenburg.
More than a year ago, the Fall River County Commission did approve the construction of a new bridge when federal dollars were involved. But when the federal funding was pulled recently due to their determination that the bridge did not serve enough residents, the state stepped in and said they would pickup the other 80 percent of the costs of the project, with the county paying the other 20 percent.
“I’m thinking we voted for a bridge,” said Rudloff to the commissioners, “and I think we should stop this at-grade crossing and do the bridge.” With these comments Rudloff cited his concerns about the state needing to establish eminent domain with a nearby landowner in order to acquire the needed land to build the road. He also cited his personal preference of a bridge and how much he likes to drive Old Hwy. 18 for pleasure.
“We keep not having a bridge one meeting at a time,” Rudloff added.
All of the commissioners showed their frustration with the apparent lack of communication between the state officials and county and then requested that Highway Supt. Randy Seiler have Kinniburgh send an email stating that the SD-DOT would still support the construction of a bridge with the same 80 percent funding formula. If so, then the county would again revisit the idea and possibly switch back to that plan.
Audience member Richard Ball spoke on behalf of several residents in the area and said, “the biggest concern out there is the expected completion date of 2020.” This is the projected timeline of constructing the at-grade crossing. Should the state and county now switch gears and change the plan to a new bridge, its unknown how that would effect the ultimate completion date.
Earlier in last week’s meeting, Commissioner Nabholz expressed his disappointment in his fellow commissioners when they approved, by a 4-1 vote, sending a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opposing the injection of production water into the Alkali Federal well located in the southwestern part of the county.
“We shouldn’t have gone off half-cocked and opposed the injection well,” Nabholz said, adding that the water, which is utilized by Commissioner Falkenburg for his ranching operation, was originally “drilled as an oil well, perfed, and acid injected, but had insufficient oil and gas so, it was converted for water producion by perfing into the Bell Sands (Minnelusa) 300 feet lower in the same well.”
“So, how is saltwater re-injection in an oil formation 1,000 feet higher up in the formation and three miles away in a totally different well more of a risk than oil, gas and saltwater 300 feet away in the same well,” he asked.
Nabholz then cited some technical reasons for how the injection of production water into the formation would actually have a positive environmental impact.
“If anything, the commission should be demanding the injection of water back into the formation,” he said. “The letter we sent to the DENR last week had the issue 180 degrees backward.”
Despite Nabholz’s detailed and seemingly educated comments as a former Drilling Engineer working for the National Science Foundation drilling exploratory wells offshore, the other four commissioners still expressed their concern over the potential negative effects that injecting of production water could have on the area’s water supply.
In the end, the commissioners voted (4-1, with Nabholz dissenting) to have Commissioner Joe Allen represent them at a yet-to-be-determined hearing on the matter in Pierre, likely later this year.
In other action, the county commission:
• Denied unanimously a recommendation by Emergency Manager Frank Maynard to update the County Fire Ban resolution from May 2014 to include the Angostura Irrigation Unit. Maynard’s recommendation however excluded the annual burning of irrigation ditches by the Irrigation District. The current fire ban is in effect when the fire index reaches HIGH, VERY HIGH or EXTREME. Residents are allowed to open burning when fire index is at LOW or MODERATE. Maynard was told he could come back to the commission with this same recommendation at a later date should the concern for wildfire increase.
• Approved a resolution requesting the S.D. Dept. of Agriculture declare a disaster and emergency to assist the Agriculture Community to recover from the extreme and harsh weather during the recent calving season. Falkenburg abstained from the vote, citing that he could potentially benefit from any government aid which could result from the disaster declaration.
• Approved the purchase of a Lennox SEER 30,000 BTUh air conditioning unit to be installed at the South Annex building. The bid was supplied by Nelson’s Oil & Gas for a cost of $2,998 plus taxes, not including electric to the outdoor unit.
• Approved spending $21,110 for Barker Concrete and Construction of Edgemont to remove rock from near Gull Hill along old Hwy. 18 and take to Pass Creek Bridge, where it will be used as rip rap. It was discussed at a meeting late last year that the state was now requiring large rip rap to be part of that project, but the cost of doing so was going to fall on the county. The early projected cost of purchasing and placing rip-rap was estimated at $100,000.