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Talks restart on recreational use of floodwaters atop private property

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — Members of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee gave marching orders Tuesday to state Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk.

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They told Vonk to reopen negotiations with landowners from northeastern South Dakota who want restrictions against the recreational use of floodwaters atop their private properties.

Vonk said the landowners and their lawyers rejected his proposal and there hasn’t been further communications. He offered a compromise that would prohibit recreational use of flooded private land under 25 acres and allow landowners to appeal to the Game, Fish and Parks Commission for restrictions on larger tracts.

The Legislature struggled on the issue during the 2013 session.

The House of Representatives approved HB 1135, which would have allowed recreational use of water on private land only if there had been public use for at least 21 years.

The Senate State Affairs Committee set the legislation aside with the understanding there would be negotiations toward a settlement between the sides.

“I’m a little baffled by the lack of effort to actually compromise,” said Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg. “There was supposed to be some give and take that would allow landowners to change current practice.”

Brown wants Vonk and the landowners’ attorneys to return to the committee’s next meeting Oct. 22. Vonk said he’ll also provide responses from sportsmen’s groups such as the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.

Rep. Mark Mickelson, RSioux Falls; Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City; and Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, let Vonk know they expect further effort this fall toward a solution.

Wismer said there is “quite a bit of risk” for sportsmen losing access if the matter is left solely to the Legislature.

“I don’t understand how this can be at an impasse,” she said.

The South Dakota Supreme Court stepped around the question in a 2004 case, Parks v. Cooper, when the justices said the issue was for the Legislature to decide.