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State commission won't deny, or OK, changing purpose of Envirothon grant

PIERRE -- No high school teams from South Dakota are participating in the North American Envirothon competition this summer. That means a $4,000 state grant for their travel isn't being used. The Butte Conservation Districts wanted to convert the...

PIERRE - No high school teams from South Dakota are participating in the North American Envirothon competition this summer.

That means a $4,000 state grant for their travel isn't being used.

The Butte Conservation Districts wanted to convert the travel grant to a new purpose: Helping pay for a full-time Envirothon coordinator already under contract.

But the South Dakota Conservation Commission deadlocked Monday, unable to summon a five-member majority to deny the request or to approve it.

If the Butte district applies again, the commission will consider the matter when it next meets in Deadwood as part of the conservation districts' state convention Sept. 25-27.

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Tim Reich, chairman of the Butte district, told the state commission a $100,000 budget is planned as part of restructuring Envirothon activities in South Dakota, including a full-time coordinator.

He said the South Dakota Envirothon steering committee is receiving some funds from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It also has a pledge from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and private donations are part of the plan too, he said.

"We've done a four-month contract at this point," Reich said. He later explained the contract currently runs through October.

The state Agriculture Department, of which the conservation commission is a part, received the Butte district's request May 24.

State commission member Charlie Moe, of Rosebud, objected Monday.

Moe questioned whether it was appropriate to shift $4,000 that was granted for a specific purpose to a new purpose that wasn't previously authorized.

"I have a concern about that," Moe said.

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Commission member Wayne Bunge, of Rapid City, sided with Moe. "I agree 100 percent with Charlie's thought process," Bunge said.

Moe made a motion to deny the Butte request. After a long silence, Bunge seconded it. The denial failed on a 2-5 vote.

That seemed to signal approval would be next - but it didn't happen.

Reich told the commission South Dakota hadn't seen much participation in Envirothon, with four or five teams, depending on the year, from 2012 through 2015.

He said the new coordinator already has scheduled activities including group meetings with school superintendents and Black Hills State University science faculty for the coming weeks.

Commission member Doug Hansen, of Webster, spoke in favor of allowing the $4,000 shift, describing it as "a high reward, small risk request."

But the roll call for approval hit a snag when commission member Alan Vedvei of Lake Preston abstained. He didn't give a reason. He had previously against the denial.

The roll call came out 4-2 with one abstention. A majority of five was needed.

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Vedvei asked that the matter be put on the September agenda.

The commission didn't vote on his request but left the situation open-ended, so that if the Butte district returns with the request the commission would then consider it again.

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