OPINION: SD legislation would give away public propertyNow comes 2013, and along with it a bill to completely reverse the work our ancestors went through to ensure the rights of our citizens to protect and to use the public resources they own.
By: Bill Antonides, Guest columnist
While our U.S. Congress is working on gun control legislation, South Dakotans might not have to worry so much about whether they can have firearms for sporting purposes, or fishing poles for that matter, if a bill introduced this year makes it through the state legislature. HB 1135 was introduced at the request of lobbyists working for a small group of landowners, with the apparent intent being to overturn over 130 years of water law, court cases, and the Public Trust Doctrine.
To boil down several hundred pages of documents, the following is water law as it now stands:
In 1877, the US Congress passed the Desert Land Act, under which the waters of Dakota Territory, “were reserved for the use of the public under the laws of the various arid-land states.”
SD state law in 1909 said, “All the waters within the limits of the state from all sources of water supply belong to the public...”
In 1955, the SD Legislature reaffirmed that all water is public property.
In 2003, the SD Supreme Court stated, “...we conclude that all water in South Dakota belongs to the people in accord with the public trust doctrine and as declared by statute and precedent...The public trust doctrine imposes an obligation on the State to preserve water for public use.”
Now comes 2013, and along with it a bill to completely reverse the work our ancestors went through to ensure the rights of our citizens to protect and to use the public resources they own. The admonition by the Supreme Court and the Public Trust Doctrine to preserve all water for the public benefit appears nowhere in the bill — neither in words nor in philosophy.
The bill is designed to close nearly every non-meandered body of water in SD to public use and turn it over to private control. The bill essentially says the public owns the water, but can’t use it. The latest figures I have indicate this legislation would close something like 8000 “permanent” lakes, several hundred thousand seasonal and semi-permanent waters, and innumerable rivers, creeks and streams unless the public could prove on each body of water the right to access by proof of continuous use in an open, notorious and adverse manner for 21 years. This is an impossible standard to meet, and the framers of the bill know it.
There are twelve sections to this bill, and so far I have not identified one single benefit to the public. They’ve even included a section to quiet or punish those persons foolhardy enough to question an access decision made by a lower court. In my opinion, this bill was written primarily with commercial hunting and fishing operations in mind, if not just plain greed, but will hurt every single member of the general public. The financial cost alone to the state will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The most important point is this: The proposed legislation is an outright giveaway of public property under the guise of landowner rights. Please ask your legislators to vote no.
Bill Antonides, of Aberdeen, is a member of the board of directors for the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.