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County approves disaster declaration for flooding

The Davison County Commission approved an emergency declaration in the wake of flooding in the region That comes as county officials are still gathering information to understand the scope of the flooding that has occurred along the James River, ...

The James River washed over the 245th Street on Tuesday in north Davison County. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The James River washed over the 245th Street on Tuesday in north Davison County. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Davison County Commission approved an emergency declaration in the wake of flooding in the region

That comes as county officials are still gathering information to understand the scope of the flooding that has occurred along the James River, Firesteel Creek, Enemy Creek and other waterways in the county. The declaration allows the county to be a part of potential disaster assistance with the state of South Dakota when applying to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). The declaration was made unanimously Tuesday during the commission's regular meeting at the county's North Offices in Mitchell.

Davison County Emergency Management Department Administrator Jeff Bathke said the county has already documented $64,000 in public infrastructure damage and that was only in a survey of the county's damage and two of the 12 townships. The data is being gathered to help with a preliminary damage assessment that is done in conjunction with the state government and FEMA. There is a $74,000 per county threshold for requesting disaster assistance, Bathke said.

"We're pretty sure we're going to meet that," Bathke said.

"We're going to be well over that," Commissioner Denny Kiner responded.

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Davison County's municipalities - Ethan, Mitchell and Mount Vernon - were weighing disaster declarations this week, with Mitchell approving its request on Monday. Other organizations that provide a public service are also eligible to be a part of the request, Bathke said.

Bathke said the declarations have to be made at each level of government - city, county, state - before ultimately President Donald Trump can consider a Presidential Disaster Declaration. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem already signed a request to declare an emergency for the state. The state may eventually request a Presidential Disaster Declaration, seeking federal funds to aid with recovery.

Individual household and private property damage isn't eligible for public assistance, and the state's flood response website notes that it's difficult for South Dakota to get individual disaster assistance.

Bathke said county employees have been gathering information for road and culvert damage, and documenting data that can be provided to state and federal officials. Combining that information as a county, he said, makes it easier to pass that information to the proper authorities. He said the county would be diligent to make sure it was turning in requests that were affected by the flooding. Davison County Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg said it's likely that additional bridge inspections will be done due to flood damage, as well.

Bathke acknowledged that Davison County and many South Dakota counties remain fortunate compared to the damage in Iowa, Nebraska and further south.

"We know we were quite fortunate," Bathke said.

The James River remains above flood stage, with moderate flooding remaining in the Mitchell area. The river was measured at 21.94 feet at 8 a.m. Tuesday and is forecast to remain at 21.9 feet for the next several days. The river near Scotland remains at major flood stage, measured at 17 feet on Tuesday morning, flooding out thousands of acres of farmland.

In other business:

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• Tabled a request from the Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association regarding its rental contract at the Davison County Fairgrounds. The gun show is moving its Mitchell show to March, and because the building is setup for shooting sports, they can't fit as many tables in the building's Activity Center. The group proposed continuing to pay $2,280 to rent the facility but would like it for four days instead of three, using the additional day for setup. The commission said it would explore how to handle a potential policy change for all similar renters.

• Heard a presentation from Director of Equalization Kathy Goetsch, who swore in the county's consolidated board of equalization. It will meet on April 9, and Goetsch said there are 20 appeals and nine recommendations that will be considered during the review process.

• Discussed mental health hold and evaluation trends with Sheriff Steve Brink and Jail Administrator Don Radel for the county's public safety officials.

• Heard drainage concerns in Perry Township with Loren VanOverschelde and during the public input session. The commission reiterated that issues with drainage on private property would have to be worked out with the affected landowners.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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