South Dakota Editorial Roundup

Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Associated Press

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, July 7, 2013

Wildfire deaths raise profound questions

Death and danger are never far away in wildland firefighting, and that harsh, heartbreaking reality hit the nation hard last week as it mourns the loss of 19 firefighters in an Arizona forest fire on June 30.

The death of the elite firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots marked the nation’s biggest loss of life on a wildfire crew in 80 years. The 20-man crew based out of Prescott, Ariz., lost all but one man, who was moving a truck when his team members were trapped in the inferno.

The tragedy devastated that town, but it also hit hard in the Black Hills firefighting community, where many people fondly remembered Kevin Woyjeck, 21, one of the young men who lost his life. Woyjeck was a California native who spent the 2012 firefighting season as part of the Bear Mountain Hand Crew in South Dakota. Some of those who knew him here will travel to a national memorial service this week and also plan to attend Woyjeck’s funeral in California.

We extend our deepest sympathy on these unimaginable, staggering losses to Woyjeck’s friends and family, and to all those who knew and loved each of the other 18 lost firefighters, as well.

Ironically, the human cost of fighting forest fires was brought home to South Dakotans again just one day after the Arizona deaths. Families and fellow airmen of the four North Carolina Air National Guard crew members who were killed in the 2012 White Draw Fire near Edgemont gathered on the anniversary of the July 1 fire to dedicate a memorial interpretive site honoring them. The crash killed Lt. Col Paul Mikeal, Major Joseph McCormick, Major Ryan David and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon. Two crew members, Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt and Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Marlowe survived.

We applaud the private donors who raised about $4,000 for the interpretive site in time for the anniversary dedication.

And we hope that we never have to erect another like it in this state.

That may well be an impossible wish, given the inherent dangers of fighting wildland fires. No matter how well trained, how well-equipped or how careful a fire crew is, there are quite simply times when a fire’s erratic nature can surprise and overwhelm even the most cautious of them. And surely, the 19 men of Granite Mountain were among the most skilled and proficient wildland firefighters who ever lived.

But we call on federal and state fire officials to honor the memory of the men lost in Arizona with not only their customary and thorough investigation of this tragedy, but also with broader questions about U.S. wildland fire policies and procedures currently in place. Was this crew sent into a dangerous situation where the chance they might perish was too high? We must answer the question of how an entire company could suffer such a fate. An examination of just what is, and what should never be, expected of crews when homes and property are on the line is called for. More profoundly, America must answer this question: Do we taxpayers put saving forests or private property or livelihoods above the life and safety of the human beings we ask to protect our homes and businesses from wildfire? There will be time enough for those questions in the weeks ahead.

But first, we mourn.

___

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, July 6, 2013

Legislature must protect consumers

Three previous governors have recognized the need to give state regulators the tools to protect elderly South Dakotans from greedy insurance companies — and every time, lawmakers have turned their backs on citizens.

Now, to his credit, Gov. Dennis Daugaard is going to try again to persuade the Legislature to beef up consumer protection against unfair insurance practices — responding to a recent Argus Leader investigation that showed how long-term care insurance companies had wrongfully denied consumers’ claims for help at assisted-living facilities or nursing homes.

Daugaard, like predecessors Walter Dale Miller, Bill Janklow and Mike Rounds, discovered that the state Division of Insurance cannot fine a company unless the firm agrees — a ludicrous predicament for regulators. The insurance division also can’t independently order restitution to policyholders.

That reveals a deep flaw in the law — and we urge the South Dakota Legislature to close this gap at its earliest opportunity. The governor is expected to have a package of reforms finished by Sept. 30.

That should be plenty of time for lawmakers to examine the reforms, tweak them where necessary and approve the changes when they meet next January.

Meanwhile, it’s important for all of us to know why previous Legislatures have been reluctant to give consumer protection laws the teeth they need.

It should be no surprise who led opposition to those reform efforts: Insurance industry lobbyists.

“That’s the way the process works,” Rounds said, referring to the lobbyists’ ability to persuade legislators to defeat reform efforts.

Well, that’s not the way it should work. It should be government’s default position to help ordinary citizens trapped by an industry willing to violate its promises.

That’s why it’s called government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

It is time — high time — to do the right thing for the people of South Dakota.

___

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, July 5, 2013

Corn Palace: Sometimes little things mean most

A pair of ideas might make the Corn Palace stronger for the future.

One is obvious: The $7.1 million plan for Corn Palace renovation and expansion, which is awaiting its fate as members of the City Council consider it.

The other: The interactive displays at the Palace that are attracting quite a crowd this summer.

If approved, the renovation plan will make changes to the Corn Palace’s exterior. Included in the proposal is a plan to create new light-up domes that would change color, plus create larger murals with improved lighting. The plan also includes large windows with a walkout balcony above the marquee. All of that would be considered Phase 1, and would cost a little more than $4 million.

Phase 2 would involve renovating the existing City Hall building at a cost of about $3 million, after city offices move to a proposed new city hall in southern downtown.

These are serious upgrades, and all the council needs to do is decide if they’re worth it, and if they’ll truly put the Corn Palace in a better position to draw tourists off Interstate 90. After all of the proposals that have come their way, we don’t envy the council members, since we feel Mitchell residents are beginning to tire of Palace proposals that have come in a seemingly endless stream in recent years.

We do feel that some sort of upgrade is needed at the Corn Palace, but we have softened our stance. Spending $4 million to $7 million may be reasonable, but we don’t feel anything above that number is worth it.

Meanwhile, we can’t help but be enthusiastic supporters of the interactive displays that have become a very popular part of the Corn Palace experience. Visitors now can climb into a combine’s cab and, through the help of a video board, see what it’s like to harvest a corn field. They can experience machines that remove kernels of corn from the cob, and they can even get a firsthand look at how corn is ground in a grist mill.

We have seen the lines of visitors waiting to experience these displays. We have seen with our own eyes the enthusiasm that kids now have when they visit the Palace.

We hope the City Council listens to a lot of people in the coming days before making their decision on whether to spend $7 million on the Corn Palace. The old building could use an upgrade, but it just comes down to how much residents want to spend and also what kind of return on investment we can expect for such an expenditure.

And as they consider what route to pursue, we commend those involved for bringing in the interactive displays, at what we assume was a very minimal cost. Those displays have sparked interest, and the kids that are “driving” the combine or grinding the corn will always remember their visit to Mitchell, S.D.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that mean the most.

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