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Native Sun News: County schedules vote on road by Bear Butte

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health and Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

A biker rides a road near Bear Butte, a place of worship and celebration of Native American ceremonies. Photo by Talli Nauman

Yet another challenge to worshipers at Bear Butte
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health and Environment Editor

STURGIS –– Does the public want the state of South Dakota to create a special tax exemption for a road and development project near sacred Bear Butte?

Meade County Commissioners and the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce are scrambling to attract local voters’ attention to a March 3 election to decide that.

Bear Butte, rich in history and religious significance to dozens of tribes, is administered as a state park and is under consideration for federal protection, due in part to its continued importance as a place of worship and celebration of Native American ceremonies.

The Sturgis Chamber of Commerce announced a meeting about the development proposal for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Community Center, located at 1401 Lazelle St.

Meanwhile, the county commission was working to set dates for hosting public meetings on the project in Faith, Piedmont and Union Center.

The March 3 Meade County special election regards a resolution adopted by commissioners Dec. 10, to find out if people want the state to establish boundaries for the “Tax Incremental Finance District No. 1.”

The reason for the district, or TIFD, would be to develop a by-pass of Sturgis between the Pleasant Valley exit of I-90 and the intersection of highways 34 and 79, which is near Bear Butte and some campgrounds that cater to the tens of thousands of tourists who attend the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

One of those campgrounds also has proposed to the commission that it become a new municipality in the county.

The creation of a TIFD is a way to finance a specific private project that waives the investors’ tax payments for a number of years with the justification that the developers are making improvements that save the county from using its general fund for infrastructure.

The Prairie Hills Audubon Society Chapter is among detractors of the proposed by-pass road. “It will bring more development and traffic to the area east of Sturgis, near the junction of highways 79 and 34, near where Bear Butte and Bear Butte Lake are located,” said chapter President Nancy Hilding.

“Bear Butte is a Native American sacred site and Bear Butte also overlaps the Bear Butte State Park and is near Bear Butte National Wildlife Refuge,” she said.

She noted that constituents haven’t seen any Meade County plan to limit or contain growth in this area, and “in fact a TIFD relies on increased growth to work,” she added.

“The quiet and natural and undeveloped view shed surrounding the mountain are part of the religious and cultural enjoyment of the mountain; the beauty and integrity of the butte needs an area surrounding it, free of housing and other development, as does the integrity of the state park and national wildlife refuge,” she argued.

The butte is not fully held in state, tribal or federal trust, so private properties here could be developed to the detriment of the traditional cultural use of the area, she said.

“We urge Meade County residents to register to vote and vote against the by-pass road and TIFD,” Prairie Hills Audubon said. “A vote of ‘No’ is against establishing the TIF District.”

The South Dakota Department of Transportation investigated the by-pass-road construction proposal and suspended work on the documents required by the National Environmental Protection Act, as the road was not a transportation priority for the state.

If Meade County proceeds with building the road without completion of the necessary federal planning documents, the route will not be eligible for federal money.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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