"This legislation is long overdue and I am glad that the President and Congress have acted on returning this land to its rightful owners," said Thune. "This land was either purchased or taken through condemnation for a specific purpose and that project never came to fruition. Now, with the President's signature, this legislation finally becomes law and the roughly 20,000 acres of land currently owned by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation can be returned."
Darla Pollman Rogers, attorney for preferential leaseholders at Riter, Rogers, Wattier & Brown, LLP in Pierre, said, "The passage of S.2205 is truly a landmark for the original landowners and their successors. These landowners reluctantly sold their land to the Bureau of Reclamation in the face of threatened condemnation, subject to promises that they could lease the land until it was needed for the project, and that they would have the opportunity to buy their land back if the project did not materialize. Over the last 30 years, and in various forums, the landowners have tirelessly advocated for their right of reacquisition. When de-authorizati-on of the Oahe Project was first considered by Congress in 1981, the landowners testified in subcommittee hearings that they should have the first chance to buy back their land. With the passage of this bill, the preferential leaseholders will finally have the opportunity to repurchase their land. As preferential leaseholder Jim Beastrom of Pierre, said upon hearing of the passage of S.2205, 'This has been a long time coming!' "
South Dakota Game Fish and Parks secretary, John Cooper said "Our goal in this legislation was to balance the needs of the original landowners and of the State by allowing landowners to regain their lands at a reasonable price and to transfer the remaining non-preference lands held by the Bureau of Reclamation to the Game, Fish & Parks Department to partially address a 30 year old obligation by the federal government to mitigate the impacts on wildlife and natural resources from the construction of several main stem dams on the Missouri River. Landowners, sportsmen, local officials, the Office of School and Public Lands all worked in unison to draft a bill that would address these issues."
"Now, in addition to preferential leaseholders being permitted to purchase approximately 13,775 acres back over the next five years, the state of South Dakota (through the Department of Game Fish & Parks) will also regain 4,722 acres of land for public access and wildlife management to partially satisfy the state's Habitat Mitigation Plan," Cooper added.
This original bill was cosponsored by Senator Tim Johnson and Representative Stephanie Herseth worked to pass a companion measure in the House earlier this year. The legislation was also supported by Governor Mike Rounds.