By John D. Taylor
HOT SPRINGS -- Fall River County commissioners learned about noxious weed control, discussed implementing the ankle bracelet program for jail inmates and those out on bond, talked about how private citizens are putting up road signs on county right-of-way roads, and learned about another potential threat to employment at their Tuesday, March 1 meeting.
Weed and Pest Board Supervisor Nina Steinmetz presented a program on how her office, charged with developing a program for “the prevention, suppression, and eradication of weeds and pests” in the county, is combating two state-level noxious weeds, salt cedar and mullein.
Both are Eurasian imports to North America, not native plants.
Salt cedar, according to the state agriculture department is an invasive shrub or small tree that came to the U.S. in nursery stocks in the early 1800s. It was initially used for steam bank stabilization, windbreaks, ornamental plantings, but as early as the 1850s, the plant escaped cultivated and began invading riparian habitat (watercourses), where it replaced native vegetation.
In 2004, the state Department of Agriculture estimated some 1,300 acres of salt cedar existed in South Dakota, usually in areas of shallow groundwater, where the plants suck up more than 600 gallons of water per day leaving behind salt.
Steinmetz explained how her office spent 217 hours last season combating salt cedar on about 44 acres of ground, this widely spread out across the county, many of these acres along the steep banks of the Cheyenne River, where getting to the plants was “like repelling down a mountain,” she said.
Salt cedar can be separated from native and other beneficial plants by its red stems, she said, which flowers between April and August. Each plant can produces some 600,000 seeds.
Steinmetz said her department is focused on finding old salt cedars and getting rid of them. She looks for the plants along shorelines, finds young plants in pastures and other open spaces.
The big trees she sprays with two herbacides, Polaris and MSO. Smaller stem get a shot of Element 4, another pesticide, and larger plants are chainsawed down, the strumps treated with Elementa 4 and bark oil.
“Are we making progress?” Steinmetz said, “Yes, we’ve been offering help for landowners for 12 years with salt cedars.”
Steinmetz is using grants to fund her fight with salt cedars.
For 2015-16 she has a $14,000 state Department of Agriculture grant from the Division of Resource Conservation. This produces a 50/50 share on lands adjacent to National Grasslands for herbicides and biological, and is good through September of 2016. The state spent another $41,000 on salt cedar last year ($15,000 on herbicides, $10,000 on the ground approach, and $16,000 on aerial spraying) she said. For 2017, the county should expect to receive about $5,000 for a 50/50 cost share that will help her with budget items.
With mullein, she said, timing spraying is critical to minimize the damage this invasive plant will do to pastures. Mullein crowds out native plants.
Ankle bracelets in lieu of jail
Fall River County Sheriffs Bob Evans came to the commissioners looking for some guidance on implementing the ankle bracelet program in lieu of the jail. What is its purpose, he asked, and what is he supposed to do to make this happen.
Commissioner Deb Russell told Evans the idea was to keep people out of jail.
Evans said there are currently 22 people in jail between Fall River County’s jail and inmates housed in Rapid City. One of these people is eligible for work release and is out doing this. Evans contacted Pennington and Custer counties, learning that they only use bracelets on people sentenced for crimes, he told the commissioners. Meade County doesn’t operate on a bracelet system, Evans said
Commissioner Joe Allen wondered how many people were awaiting sentencing in the Fall River jail. Evans told him 21 people.
States Attorney Jim Sword said he met with Seventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Craig Pfeifle, and he approved Fall River’s use of the ankle bracelets. Pfeifle didn’t know exactly when Fall River County could implement its ankle bracelet program, but it was going to happen. The joint Pennington, Custer and Fall River system was awaiting grant money.
Allen told Evans to get ready to go with this system, to get some bracelets, get people trained to use and monitor it, and get ready to go.
“The opportunity to lead is here,” Sword said, suggested Evans coordinate swith both Pennington and Custer sheriffs, who are already on board. “There’s no reason Fall River County can’t do this. My office is already on board with our counterparts. Piggyback with what they (Custer and Pennington counties) do. They have 10 times the cases we do.”
Russell said there would be no cost to the county until they begin using the ankle bracelets and urged Evans to get on board.
Evans asked to come up with a program to begin this.
Commissioner Mike Ortner said the county should focus on pre-sentencing people for bracelets. But Sword reminded him that no pre-trial bracelets could be used, because the presumption was “innocent until proven guilty.”
Many don’t realize the costs of being accused of crime – even if you’re found innocent – Sword said, “People lose their job, the kids don’t eat, they can’t pay their mortgage… it’s hard, even if you’re innocent. There are consequences. Today its tougher than when jobs were plentiful. There’s not just another job about the corner.”
Allen said the only issue with the bracelets are victims are often disappointed that criminals are out of the street. Sword talked about safe zones for victims, while Ortner said that the VA reverses the innocent until proven guilty end of things.
Allen asked Evans if he would order four ankle bracelets and begin getting ready.
“Yeah, probably,” Evans said.
Private signs on county roads
County Emergency Manager Frank Maynard told the commissioners how he’s seeing some cases of private individuals putting stop signs and other signage on county public access roads. These roads are not county-designated highways, but are public rights of way.
“We need to stop this before it gets carried away,” he said.
One road, for example, leads to a private residence, but the sign on the road says “private drive.”
Maynard wants official signs posted in place of these non-official signs.
Allen suggested having Sword send an official county letter to the individuals doing this.
Mikelson Trail bridge
During a dissussion on bridge inspections, County Highway Superintendent Randy Seiler talked about a bridge over the Mikelson Trail that could cost $1.3 million to fix.
Seiler, Commissioner Joe Falkenburg and state engineers want to consider an alternative, using an at-grade crossing around the bridge, which would reduce the costs significantly, including the use of potential federal funds that might not be there later.
Seiler said the county has 36 bridges – compared to Pennington’s 136 – and the wheel tax resulted in an extra $100,000 for the county to fix bridges.
Falkenburg also talked about using old railroad cars for bridges, as other counties have done, also at a significant costs savings, compared to a regular bridge.
Russell and Falkenburg shared with the other commissioners their conversation with several railroad people who talked with them about how trains might no longer stop in Edgemont.
This could have grave consequences for the county, Falkenburg said, since there are many railroad employees living in Hot Springs and elsewhere, especially in the southern end of the county.
He anticipated both Hot Springs and Edgemont would be affected by this, if it happens, and suggested getting the county involved in keeping the railroad workers here.