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State regulators delay suspension of a Yankton County grain license

PIERRE — A state regulatory panel agreed Friday to wait until Sept. 4 to decide whether to suspend the grain-buyer license for the company of a prominent Yankton businessman.

Ralph Marquardt told the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission he or brother John Marquardt would take responsibility for all decisions going forward at Utica Grain Inc.

The company does business as Upper Midwest Grain Elevator with locations at Utica, Irene, Meckling and Tabor.

State law requires a $100,000 cushion for a Class A grain-buyer license. Class B licenses are more restrictive and require payment to producers in 30 days. Company officials said they remained about $11,000 short of the $100,000 cushion Friday. Ralph Marquardt had $284,941.28 put in the checking account Thursday.

No one alleged a producer wasn't paid.

Justin Blais, one of the commission's grain-warehouse inspectors, said he's been trying for years to get the company into compliance with South Dakota laws.

The agency required weekly financial reports from Utica Grain since May 2014, according to Blais. He said it's the only company now under that requirement.

After more than three hours of testimony, Commissioner Chris Nelson asked that a decision be deferred until the next meeting. Chairwoman Kristie Fiegen and Commissioner Gary Hanson agreed.

Nelson said he wants Utica Grain to submit an accurate financial statement by Aug. 31 that shows the company is in compliance.

"I'm surprised we are here," Nelson said. He called the information from Blais "damning."

"If the law would let me do a temporary suspension today, I'd do it," Nelson said.

The delay lets commissioners judge whether Marquardts fulfill the written promises and lets commission staff weigh other safeguards, Nelson said.

The commission's staff attorneys requested the suspension. "We anticipate a volatile harvest season and just don't see how this elevator can survive it," PUC lawyer Amanda Reiss said.

"The day to day management, I was not involved," Ralph Marquardt said. He said there had been some "bad choices" of managers in recent years. He added, "We feel very comfortable we can make the changes that need to be made, period."

"Are you going to let this grain elevator fail?" Mitchell Peterson of Sioux Falls, an attorney representing the company, asked.

"Absolutely not," Marquardt replied. "I will put in whatever cash I need to make sure it is in compliance."