Meade County residents voice concern, frustration over proposed water project
"I've never seen a rural water system just jammed down people's throats and I think that's the feeling everybody has here," said Meade County Commissioner, Talbot Wieczorek.
MEADE COUNTY, S.D. — The South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority (SDEDA) is looking to right a wrong.
But the organization finds itself between a rock and hard place to do so.
It’s seeking $12 million in state funds for a $30 million water system to serve nearly 500 residents in Meade County.
A portion of that lump sum could be paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR), by either a grant or a loan.
The proposed location of the new well would be just after the Black Hawk exit.
The new water system would specifically serve around 140 residents that were impacted by dangerous fire-fighting chemicals that contaminated shallow wells in the county.
At a public hearing in Rapid City on Wednesday,
“The South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority would not be building a waterline out there if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re trying to help the base solve a problem,” said Glen Kane, the Managing Director of the South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority.
The meeting, according to Kane, is one of a series of meetings with those impacted by the contamination, that would want to ‘hook up’ to the water system along its route, as well as, many other Meade County residents. He says the meetings have been occurring over the last three years.
In the meeting, it examined the possible outcomes of the potential funding provided by the DANR, one being through a Water Revenue Bond, which would be a 30-year loan for $12,192,000 at an interest rate of 1.635%. Total monthly debt costs on that loan would be $47,365.
Based on the 589 projected accounts that could take advantage of the water system, the approximate per account month debt cost for users would be about $80.42. However, SDEDA says that doesn’t include costs for operating and maintenance or water costs paid by users to other systems who are direct customers of those systems.
Meade County residents, many being local ranchers voiced their opposition and concern.
Also voicing their opposition of the current plan and well location is The Black Hawk Water User District.
Ken LeBon, the Manager of the BHWUD, submitted a letter to SDEDA at the meeting, outlining the companies resources in the area as well as their reservations about the project.
You can view the letter in the images below.
One key concern by LeBon and the BHWUD, is the impact a project like this could have on their business.
“We serve Piedmont, Summerset, Black Hawk, over to Marvel Mountain,” LeBon said. ‘We’re a regional water system already and now you guys [SDEDA] want to come in, become a regional water system and take our position basically.”
Meade County Commissioner, Talbot Wieczorek of District 3, was at the meeting. He raised many concerns, specifically to a mistake made by SDEDA in the geographic location of the well. He said that the line where the well was drilled was extended three-quarters of a mile from its original location, per the request of the developer. That one change he says, increases the project cost by $645,000.
Wieczorek also called the project rushed and touched on the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that would be used to fund the project.
“I’ve never seen a rural water system just jammed down people’s throats and I think that’s the feeling everybody has here,” Wieczorek said.
SDEDA must have the design phase of the project and study completed by September 1. The organization has already submitted its application for funding assistance to the DNAR and are waiting on the available type of funding.
Although there may be some more hoops to jump through, Kane says there could be a look at other ways to put the well in place. But still, the number one goal is alleviating the contamination problem.
“We have to be flexible in how we go forward,” Kane said. “Hopefully we can get a plan and get going because I would really like to to have water to those people that are contaminated in the next couple of years.”