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Isabel snowplowing dispute could change DOT's practice

PIERRE -- A legislative panel supported a new requirement Monday that state plows should remove snow and ice from the full width of state highways through South Dakota's many smaller communities.

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A plow makes its way southbound on South Burr Street as snow falls in 2016. (Matt Gade / Republic)

PIERRE - A legislative panel supported a new requirement Monday that state plows should remove snow and ice from the full width of state highways through South Dakota's many smaller communities.

The Senate Local Government Committee voted 4-2 to endorse passage of Sen. Ryan Maher's measure, SB 58. The full Senate could vote on it as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Maher, R-Isabel, wants to force the state Department of Transportation to fully clear the state highways that double as streets in communities with populations of 2,500 or less. That would include the parking slots on the streets in front of businesses.

Sidewalks would remain the responsibility of the businesses and the local government.

Maher acknowledged he's trying to use the legislation to force action in Isabel. He said DOT removed the snow in past years. This winter DOT still plows but the snow that piles up has been left for the city and the businesses to dispose.

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"We're at a standstill," Maher said about negotiations. He would like the arrangement to be one-third apiece between the property owner, the city and DOT.

Yvonne Taylor, from South Dakota Municipal League, spoke in support.

"Where we can cooperate better we certainly should be doing that," Taylor said.

Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist testified against the requirement. He said it would change snow removal responsibilities that have been in place for 50 years.

The legislation would affect 152 other communities, according to Bergquist. He said DOT has difficulty hiring enough snowplow drivers and can't afford to buy the additional equipment for the city work and can't afford to hire people to run it.

Bergquist said DOT would need to contract for the work. Neither he nor Maher had an estimate of how much the contracts might cost.

Bergquist said $20,000 per year on average per community - which he described as "purely a stab in the dark" -would total about $3 million statewide.

Bergquist said the dispute in Isabel is "a difference of opinion" whether the full width includes parking.

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"We just plow the traveled portion of the state highway system," Bergquist said.

Some communities want snow plowed to the middle for the community crews to remove, he said.

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