LAKE ANDES — On Monday, the Yankton Sioux Tribe blamed Gov. Kristi Noem for the five-month flooding of a tribal housing development outside Lakes Andes.
Yankton Sioux officials released their allegations in a statement entitled, “The Yankton Sioux Tribe: The Governor Is Flooding Our People Out Of Their Homes.”
The Yankton Sioux, who use the traditional name Ihanktonwan Nation, said the flooding has strained the tribe’s infrastructure.
“As a result, for the past (five) months, more than 60 Ihanktonwan families have been impacted by the expanding Lake Andes,” the statement said. “Their access to emergency and basic life services is now extremely limited and their homes are slowly becoming uninhabitable.”
In a response Monday evening, the governor noted she visited the Charles Mix County community, at which time she offered state assistance to city, county and tribal officials.
“Governor Noem visited Lake Andes and the Yankton Sioux Tribe housing development in July to extend a helping hand and see first-hand the impact of flooding there,” press secretary Kristin Wileman told the Press & Dakotan.
Lake Andes’ 900 residents have seen extensive flooding and infrastructure issues since a March bomb cyclone inundated the town with rainfall. The lake, which serves as the town’s namesake, overran Highway 50/281 east of town. The highway has remained closed because of subsequent rainfall.
The Lake Andes community has seen the flooding of homes and the community park along the lake. The long-term closure of Highway 50/281 has cut off access for 10 miles to the east, affecting the town’s economy, law enforcement and first responders.
In addition, flooding has affected a tribal housing development southeast of Lake Andes. Homes have developed mold and other health concerns, according to tribal officials. Also, the flooded Highway 50/281 and a flooded walking path have cut off tribal members’ access to town.
Noem’s plans for addressing the Lake Andes flooding will benefit both the community and the tribe, Wileman said.
“The state’s plans to raise the highway grade specifically include plans to raise a secondary road between tribal housing and the highway to Lake Andes,” the spokeswoman said. “The state has indicated that work will be done at no cost to the tribe, and requires only a tribal resolution authorizing work on their road, which we have not received.”
The YST blames a blocked culvert for the flooding, asserting the state should replace the culvert. Tribal officials criticize state officials for what the tribe calls a lack of action.
“The tribe has requested from the state a study showing that the culvert should not be replaced, along with a proposal for a long-term solution,” the statement said. “The state has not responded.”
The tribe blames one particular state agency for the culvert issue.
“This has developed into slow-motion tragedy for our people — one that was avoidable,” the statement said. “The flooding at Lake Andes is caused by the negligence of the state Game, Fish and Parks to maintain a key culvert that replaced the natural waterway from Lake Andes into the Missouri.”
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission didn’t immediately respond to a Press & Dakotan request for comment.
Noem addressed the issue during her Lake Andes visit, Wileman said.
“She discussed with tribal officials a number of issues, including the outlet pipe and tribal plans to drain the lake using pumps,” the press secretary said.
“She shared (with the tribe) our (state officials’) view that the pipe was working within its design guidelines, as well as the limited impact any pumping would have on water levels.”
Lake Andes attorney Tim Whalen has served on a committee dealing with the flood. The relief effort has brought together city, county, tribal, state and federal entities, he told the Press & Dakotan about two weeks ago.
Whalen noted the extraordinary challenge posed by the long-term flooding.
“The lake normally covers 6,500 to 7,500 surface acres. Now, at the height of the flooding, it covered 11,000 surface acres, so it in effect has doubled in size,” he said. “We’ve had six feet of water over the road. When you’ve got that amount of surface water, you’re getting ground water that pushes up and create more flooding.”
The South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) has moved forward with plans to raise Highway 50/281 in order to re-open the roadway.
At the start of the project, SDDOT regional engineer Craig Smith outlined the agency’s plans for elevating Highway 50/281.
“The roadway is being raised as much as 3 1/2 feet in some locations with rock and geogrid reinforcement, since this will be done in water and typical construction practices are not feasible,” he told the Press & Dakotan. “The work will be done just east of Park Avenue and extending east approximately 2,000 feet.”
The timetable calls for completion of the work and re-opening the roadway in early September, he said. The estimated cost for the work is $1 million.
The current raising of the elevation is considered a temporary measure, Smith said.
“As the water recedes, DOT will begin developing plans to make this a permanent grade raise with additional dirt work, culvert work and other work needing to be done,” he said.
In Monday’s statement, the Yankton Sioux Tribe criticized the state’s decision to elevate the road rather than fix the culvert.
“Our community is literally drowning due to state negligence and indifference to the health and well-being of our people,” the statement said. “Instead, the governor has suggested that displaced tribal residents use surplus Army tents for temporary housing while scarce resources are spent elevating Highway 18/50.”
In its statement, the tribe said the state’s roadwork could worsen the situation.
“This temporary fix would effectively change the road grade to a level that would cut off our connecting roads, further disconnecting the community from necessary emergency services, access to basic living necessities, jobs and schools,” the statement said.
Yankton Sioux tribal chairman Robert Flying Hawk said addressing the culvert would provide the better solution.
“Why not use those funds to fix the culvert that has worked for over 80 years and provide a permanent solution for both our community and the state?” he asked.
Noem took a different approach toward tribal needs during her time in the U.S. House, Flying Hawk said.
“Governor Noem, as a (former) member of Congress, understood the limited resources available to our tribe,” Flying Hawk said. “Her office was an advocate to increase critically needed housing and improve health care. She was our congresswoman!”
Flying Hawk called for the state to take a different approach to the Lake Andes and Yankton Sioux flooding situation.
“I don’t want to believe that the governor, knowing there (are) no replacement housing funds, would choose to continue to allow her constituents to drown while commerce is resumed,” he said. “I hope she will address our people immediately with a solution.”
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