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Miner County townships could vote to leave water district

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The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- The state Board of Water and Natural Resources will consider next week whether the legal requirements have been met for eight townships of western Miner County to hold a public vote on leaving the James River Water Development District.

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The vote would be part of the Nov. 6 general election.

The Legislature added the townships to the James River district in 2008 without the full knowledge of the people living there.

Property owners came under the district's taxing authority starting in 2009.

Cindy Foster, of Fulton, led the petition drive for the vote. She is a supervisor for Beaver Township, one of the eight affected, and is a past president for the South Dakota Association of Towns and Townships.

"The James River does not run through or even touch the border of Miner County. The (district) has not spent one dime on anything in Miner County as of today, to my knowledge," Foster said.

"I am just a landowner who thought that the dollars we are sending to help subsidize projects in other counties should stay in Miner County, in the taxpayers' wallets.

"I feel that since the river doesn't cross our county, we shouldn't be a part of the district, and after talking to people who signed the petition, I feel that I am not alone in that opinion."

The eight townships were added to the James River district by the Legislature in 2008 as part of broader revisions in the boundaries for several water districts.

Eight other Miner County townships were already part of the East Dakota district. Their status wouldn't be affected by the James River matter.

Foster presented the petition to the Miner County Commission on April 10.

The commission voted in favor of the withdrawal and to proceed toward the election.

The commission's official resolution stated that "membership does not serve the best interests of that part of the county" and the local voters should be allowed to decide.

The proposed withdrawal would affect Redstone, Carthage, Miner, Green Valley, Clinton, Roswell, Beaver and Rock Creek townships, as well as the communities of Carthage and Roswell.

Jay Gilbertson, manager for the East Dakota district, attended that meeting and provided advice to the commissioners.

He said Monday his goal is to maintain a good working relationship with the commission regarding the eastern townships.

He said he doesn't expect an attempt for the western townships to be added to East Dakota because western Miner County generally drains to the James River.

The eastern townships have been members of East Dakota since its formation in 1963, according to Gilbertson.

The western townships historically weren't part of any district until the Legislature's decision in 2008.

The state board is scheduled to discuss the matter during its Aug. 14 teleconference meeting.

Jim Feeney, an administrator for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, advised the state board that DENR's official position is that the election be held.

State law specifically lays out the process that must be followed for the election to be held. The state board's decision will be whether to find the law's requirements have been met.

A sample ballot that has been presented to the state board shows that a "yes" vote would be for withdrawal and a "no" vote would be to remain in the James River district.

"I don't think this is a controversial issue, just an issue of fairness of letting the people who are affected by a decision we had no part in making decide if they concur with the decision that was made for them," Foster said.

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