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City seeks to build 158-person storm shelter at Lake Mitchell Campground

The 1,900-square-foot storm shelter would be Mitchell's first facility that can house residents and campers displaced from their homes during severe weather events

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Kavin Dressen organizes his camping area in the summer of 2020 at the Lake Mitchell Campground. The city is seeking to build a 158-person storm shelter at the campground to provide residents and campers a safe place to seek refuge during natural disasters.
Sam Fosness / Republic
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MITCHELL — City leaders are taking steps to better prepare Mitchell for natural disasters.

The city’s application for a federal grant to fund the construction of a 1,900-square-foot safe room shelter at the Lake Mitchell Campground is the latest move that officials have made to improve disaster response.

The safe room shelter would be capable of housing up to 158 people. After severe weather events that displaced residents from their homes, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the shelter would be a “major improvement” in the city’s disaster response.

“What it would do is also give us a large tornado shelter in a good location,” Everson said, noting the location was chosen in part due to aid campers staying at the Lake Mitchell Campground.

Mitchell does not have a specific designated storm shelter where people displaced from their homes can seek refuge during severe weather events.

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Although the shelter would be built above ground, Everson said the contractors use sturdy material to withstand tornadoes and severe wind events like the Mitchell area recently experienced on May 12.

While the city’s goal to build a shelter recently came into focus, Everson said it’s not a direct response to the derecho wind storm that brought 100 mph wind gusts across the region. Rather, Everson said the available grants funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is what drove the city to push forward to build a shelter at the city-owned campground.

“We’ve been working on our hazard pre-disaster mitigation plan for a few years now. The shelter plan is purely coincidental with the large amount of grant funds available,” Everson said.

To better accommodate residents in times of a disaster, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said the city plans to add several features to the shelter.

“We would add a few showers and bathrooms to make it a better environment for the campers,” Schroeder said. “This grant is an opportunity that the city might not ever see again.”

The project is estimated to cost $604,894, including the installation of bathrooms and showers. The FEMA grant would cover the construction costs of the building, while the city would fund the bathrooms and showers.

Everson pointed to the 2019 flood that temporarily displaced some Mitchell residents from their homes. After some homes were flooded out during the September 2019 flood that drenched Mitchell with 8-plus inches of rain in two days, some residents were forced to stay in hotels until the water subsided.

Everson said the shelter would be free of charge.

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Building a shelter at the campground was one recommended action item that resulted from the Davison County Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation plan, which City Planner Mark Jenniges played a vital role in laying out.

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Shown here is a map of the Lake Mitchell Campground along the north side of Mitchell. City leaders are seeking to build a storm shelter at the campground to house residents and campers during severe weather events.
Matt Gade/Mitchell Republic

Some notable action items that were identified during the pre-disaster hazard mitigation plan included building another shelter at the Pepsi Cola Soccer Complex in north Mitchell and making improvements to Dry Run Creek.

Considering Dry Run Creek serves as the city’s main vein for collecting stormwater runoff, city officials have been widening the creek. The $80,000 project – which was approved in 2019 – will aim to improve approximately 12,500-feet of the creek, spanning from Foster Street to the Highway 37 bypass.

“We want to look at widening the creek and add additional detention so we can reduce the floodplain,” Schroeder said of the Dry Run Creek widening project.

Although leading Mitchell through natural disasters has brought plenty of challenges for city leaders, Everson said it’s helped the city identify areas in need of improvement. Following the 2019 flood, the city partnered with FEMA to fund the demolition of a home that was sitting in the Dry Run Creek floodplain.

Although the construction of the shelter could be a couple years out, Everson said getting the funding in place will bring the city closer to welcoming its first designated storm shelter.

“When it comes to disasters, you always want to be proactive, not reactive,” Everson said. “That’s why we are taking the steps to improve our disaster response now.”

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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