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Wagner to hold election over State Highway 46 project, but does the vote even matter?

A special election will be held Tuesday, Dec. 6.

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WAGNER, S.D. — A special election will be held Tuesday, Dec. 6, to decide whether Wagner residents will be supporting a construction project for South Dakota Highway 46 that runs through the heart of the town.

The Wagner City Council on Aug. 18 passed a motion to support the construction project, but that has since been referred to a public vote. According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, the $17 million project calls for the re-configuring of the current four-lane highway that extends through Wagner to Highway 37 into a three-lane equipped with a center-left turn lane.

"The only thing on the ballet is the decision on a three-lane highway or four lane," Mayor Todd Johannsen said. "It's been a discussion for probably four years now. I have an opinion obviously, but I probably won't voice it."

The question, however, is whether the vote in Wagner will actually have any impact on the project. The city vote may turn out that residents don't support the project, but the DOT may still move forward with it regardless because the state does not need the thumbs-up to conduct the work.

Wagner City Attorney Ken Cotton said Friday that to his knowledge, the DOT doesn't need any approval to do the work. When asked why the city is even having a special election, he responded, "That's an interesting question."

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"It's a pretty powerful argument that the state put in the highway and have maintained it all these years," he said. "I just know how well this road has served us for all these years, both as a three- and a four-lane."

There has been opposition toward the project since it was announced that a the portion of state highway that runs through the heart of Wagner would be impacted. A dozen or so residents have been vocal in the past year about their disdain for what they say is a lack of consideration for small businesses in Wagner.

The city's solution was to hold a special election so that residents could decide to support the project. A public notice published in the Nov. 30 edition of the Wagner Post says the vote will be "a referendum to reject the Wagner City Council's motion to support the South Dakota Department of Transportation's plan for reconstruction a portion of Highway 46."

"I'm not for or against (the project),"said Kip Spotted Eagle, owner of local coffee shop Grind House 46. "I'm most concerned on what the affect of construction during our peak season will do to not just our business, but for every small business in town."

According to Spotted Eagle, both the DOT and the state have remained adamant that businesses will be remain accessible and traffic will not be detoured.

"Small businesses are fragile — it's truly a balancing act," Spotted Eagle said. "My only issue is, why does the DOT and the state not care about the revenue that we'll be put out from (the project)? People get panicky with cones and the mess of construction and they're not going to want to stop — all they're going to want to do is get through the construction."

Spotted Eagle's business, Grind House 46, rests where construction was set to begin in summer of 2023 prior to the special election.

"All the infrastructure that comes with it is amazing. On the safety side of it, I'm all for it," Spotted Eagle noted. "But my only issue is, why didn't they consider small businesses?"

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Cassie Williams joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2022. To get in contact with Cassie about potential stories, feel free to email her at cwilliams@mitchellrepublic.com.
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