Exceedingly dry conditions with little relief in sight have pushed Yankton County to impose restrictive measures.
During its regular meeting Monday, the County Commission voted unanimously in favor of enacting a countywide temporary burn ban that will sunset May 4, at the earliest, unless conditions drastically improve.
Yankton County Director of Emergency Management Paul Scherschligt was on hand for Monday’s meeting to tell the board the county’s fire departments are in agreement of a burn ban for the near future.
“The fire departments have been in contact with me,” he said. “They feel very strongly, even though we’ve got a good chance — but the keyword there is ‘chance’ — in our rain forecast.”
While the next three days show a strong chance of rain, he said that officials believe this may not be enough to quell wildfire chances for long.
“I was talking to some of the (firefighters) today,” he said. “If you look at the forecast, we’re still supposed to get south winds. It’s going to be a little cooler, but yet the winds are going to dry it out and we’ll be back to where we were.”
Scherschligt said May 4 was chosen because it is the next meeting of the Yankton County Commission and it could be extended, if needed, at that time.
He also said that the chiefs could lift the ban early if conditions do improve.
During discussion of the resolution, Commissioner Don Kettering asked Scherschligt about enforcement.
“Right now, it’s classified as a Class II Misdemeanor,” Scherschligt said. “It would be reporting it to the sheriff to go out and either issue them a ticket or tell them to put it out.”
Kettering said it needs to be clear that this is a serious situation.
“This is one of those enforcement issues that you never see in the paper that anybody was fined because they were not respecting a burn ban — maybe they’re there and I don’t get it,” he said. “I think we need to be very serious about this burn ban and they have to pay a penalty if they ignore it.”
Scherschligt said a fine of up to $200 could be levied against violators.
Commissioner Joseph Healy raised concerns about burning trash out in the county.
“I know there’s people that are going to burn their trash anyway,” he said. “In 2019, we got call after call, ‘I’ve got garbage piling up. What am I supposed to do with it?’”
Scherschligt pointed out that some of the wildfires the county has seen lately started as a result of trash burning.
“On Saturday, there were four fires in Yankton County and they all came from burning garbage,” he said. “One was a tire pile. Another was about 20 acres of grass.”
Commissioner Dan Klimisch said he sees the urgent need for the temporary burn ban.
“I was out in Lesterville on Saturday and I saw Paul just as he was getting off of one fire and going to another one,” he said. “It’s a real threat and I don’t think he’d be here unless this was pretty serious. It’s very dry out there and we don’t want something to get away.”
The last time Yankton County implemented a long-term temporary burn ban was in 2019 — ironically, for the opposite reason: It was too wet. Following the March 2019 bomb cyclone, many unpaved roads throughout the county were flooded, received damage or would have been otherwise unable to support emergency equipment because they had become so waterlogged.
Scherschligt also cited 2012 as another year in which a burn ban had been implemented at the county level due to dry conditions.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the board took a step towards boosting a bridge’s chances at receiving some state funding.
Earlier this year, a BIG (Bridge Improvement Grant) grant request for replacement funding for the Stone Church Bridge was denied. On Monday, the board voted to move forward with design and engineering for a replacement.
Yankton County Highway Superintendent Mike Sedlacek said that this would be a helpful move.
“This will gain us 10 points on the BIG score,” he said. “The score was originally 48.77, if I remember right, and the lowest score to be awarded this year was 50.2 I’m not saying we’re guaranteed next year, but we’d be in the hard running for getting it.”
He said the cost for design and engineering would be around $130,000.
The commission also approved a resolution in support of the Second Amendment by a 4-1 vote. Healy was the lone nay vote, stating that while he agreed with the resolution’s contents, he didn’t agree with the County Commission being used to make a political statement.
In other business Monday, the board:
• Approved several abatements.
• Approved several right of way applications.
• Appointed Dennis Michaels and Cathy Weiss to the Planning Commission.
Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.