LAKE ANDES -- County and state officials are encouraging victims of the 2019 flooding in Lake Andes to explore their options with a hazard mitigation grant being offered through South Dakota Emergency Management at a special meeting of the Charles Mix County Commission.

About a dozen members of the public attended the Thursday meeting in Lake Andes, where they heard about the program, which offers to purchase homes and property affected by the heavy rains throughout last year.

Jim Poppen, state hazard mitigation officer with South Dakota Emergency Management, was on hand to present details of the program, which offers to purchase the property and structures of flooded out homeowners using a combination of federal and state funds.

“We had four presidential disasters declared in 2019, and right now we’re looking at about $100 million in damages, which results in about $10 million for this mitigation grant that we have to manage,” Poppen said.

The yard in front of a home along High Street in Lake Andes is flooded in September. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The yard in front of a home along High Street in Lake Andes is flooded in September. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The grant, which pays the owner 75 percent of the appraised value of the property, is supplemented by funds approved by Gov. Kristi Noem in her state of the budget address, which adds another 10 percent of the value to the payment. Owners who choose to participate in the program would need to fill out a grant application by March 13 and appear before the county commission for sponsorship. Owners would need to have an appraisal of the property from the last six months as part of the application, Poppen said.

When the process is complete, the owner would be paid and the county would take ownership of the land, which must be maintained as a green space with no structures built on it, Poppen said. Sponsorship can also be obtained through a municipality if the property is within city limits.

The program gives preference to those selling a primary dwelling structure, but all affected property is eligible. Poppen said that property could be re-parceled to make it easier for an owner to sell a portion of land with a damaged structure but retain pasture or other property that could still be useful.

“We’ve done it where we’ve re-parceled around the house and demolished the house. Because (the owner) had a farm and quite a few outbuildings and barns and livestock and they still used that land to do their normal farming. But the house is gone,” Poppen said.

Mike Kotab, emergency manager for Charles Mix County, said the approval process can be slow, but it’s a worthwhile program to look into for those who face a constant threat of flood damage. And participation in the program is the choice of the landowner, he said.

J.D. Houseman works to maintain the ground and the berm that was built around a lift station off of Park Avenue in Lake Andes in September. Houseman said every day he has to make sure and reinforce the berm as water softens the soil and threatens flood waters getting to the lift station. (Matt Gade / Republic)
J.D. Houseman works to maintain the ground and the berm that was built around a lift station off of Park Avenue in Lake Andes in September. Houseman said every day he has to make sure and reinforce the berm as water softens the soil and threatens flood waters getting to the lift station. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“You would sell the house and the land, whatever part of the parcel, and you would walk away from it once you get your contents out,” Kotab said. “This is voluntary, you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. We can parcel out just the house, and that would be all that you’re giving up. If you have 10 acres, you would still have 9.75 acres, or whatever the case.”

Applications will be reviewed and even those who are not accepted are kept on file in the case more funds are available in the future, Poppen said.

“Maybe you weren’t selected, but we keep all the applications in our office, and the next funding opportunity that comes along, we contact the applicant again and ask if they are still interested,” Poppen said. “The application is good for five years, so if you don’t make the deadline and still want to participate, I would still get your application done.”

While the county must approve and sponsor applications, Neil Von Eschen, chairman of the Charles Mix County Commission, said the commission would likely sponsor any application from local victims.

“I think we would probably sponsor anything that falls in that disaster area. We’re here to represent everybody in the county, and we can’t choose this and not that,” Von Eschen said.

A home just south of HWY 50 is surrounded by water up to the doorway while HWY 50 itself is flooded over by Lake Andes. (Matt Gade / Republic)
A home just south of HWY 50 is surrounded by water up to the doorway while HWY 50 itself is flooded over by Lake Andes. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Keith Mushitz, another Charles Mix commissioner, said that even though the county isn’t interested in being a landowner, the commission has a responsibility to its residents to help where it can.

“I wish this hadn’t happen to anyone here. We’re trying to help out in a bad situation. The county doesn’t want to own the land. We make no money owning land because we can’t tax ourselves,” Mushitz said. “I’m not pushing for any of this. I wish it had never happened, but if you’re in a bad situation it’s kind of our duty to help our citizens.”

Hakaakichita Elksoldier, who along with seven others was displaced from his flooded home during the extreme September rainfall, was in attendance at the meeting and said he would be applying for the grant.

“Oh, I’m definitely going to apply for the grant. And hopefully I get approved for it,” Elksoldier said.

Elksoldier said his family is living in a pair of apartments in Lake Andes.

Poppen said the response to the program so far has been positive, and people are looking into taking advantage.

“We’ve done approximately 75 homes across the state,” Poppen said. “This year we’ve been receiving quite a few calls, a lot from the September incident.”

Recovering from a flooded home and property can be an unpleasant experience, Poppen said, and he said this grant program may be just the thing for people who want to get out of their current situation and start again.

“It’s like (the commissioners) said, we don’t want to have to do this. But fortunately, we have this program that can help people get out of that situation,” Poppen said.