By David Lias
Gov. Dennis Daugaard and several state officials traveled to Vermillion Monday, Oct. 14 for a special taping of the South Dakota Public Broadcasting program “South Dakota Focus.”
The program, taped in the SDPB studios located in the Al Neuharth Media Center on the University of South Dakota campus, discussed relief efforts for communities and ranchers affected by a catastrophic blizzard that struck western South Dakota over the first weekend of October.
Western South Dakota ranchers are reeling from the loss of tens of thousands of cattle in the blizzard, and many have begun the process of disposing carcasses in pits.
Stephanie Rissler moderated Monday’s program. Besides Gov. Daugaard, her guests included Secretary of SD Department of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch, Director of SD Office of Emergency Management Kristi Turman, and State Veterinarian Dr. Dustin Oedekoven.
The governor told the Plain Talk after the program concluded that he hopes everyone in South Dakota keeps their West River neighbors in mind as they struggle to overcome the storm’s effects.
“I think for us in the eastern part of the state, we have to remember that even though it was a big rain event for us, it was just a dramatic snow event for West River, especially in the Black Hills and near the Black Hills,” Daugaard said.
Record snowfall amounts were recorded in Butte, Perkins, Lawrence, Pennington, Meade, and Custer counties.
The blizzard dumped up to 4 feet of snow in the Black Hills area. Reports of 20 or more inches of snow were common, and 21½ inches in Rapid City were a record for both a 24-hour period in October and the entire month. At least two deaths were attributed to the storm, and it took a particularly heavy toll on livestock.
“Having all that occur at a time that you normally don’t have a dramatic storm like that made things a little tougher,” Daugaard said, “especially for those livestock ranchers. There are some that were really hurt badly, and I hope people will consider making a donation to the Rancher Relief Fund and helping out our neighbors.”
The governor was referring to the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund, which was established earlier this month by the Black Hills Area Community Foundation to provide support and relief assistance to those in the agriculture industry impacted by the blizzard.
The fund is administered by BHACF in cooperation with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association for the direct benefit of the livestock producers impacted by the storm. More information about the fund is available at www.giveblackhills.org.
Gov. Daugaard said it is frustrating that the current federal government shutdown began just before the storm struck western South Dakota.
“The shutdown has impacted our ability to deal with the storm to some degree,” he said. “The ranchers that lost a lot of livestock – if they had sold some cattle before the shutdown and just got their checks right before the storm or right after the storm, in many cases they can’t cash their checks because they’ve got a federal guarantee on some of their loans and the check was issued jointly. That’s a big problem for them to deal with their financial situation.”
The inspection of storm damage also must take place without the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We would normally have our FEMA regional folks accompany us to look at damage so that we don’t have any disputes later over whether something was damaged or the degree to which there was damage,” the governor said. “We agree on it, on the spot (with FEMA present) before repairs are undertaken.
“Now, with FEMA shut down, we don’t have our FEMA partners to do that with. It’s going to hopefully not cause disputes later, but it certainly could,” he said.
The blizzard relief special taping of “South Dakota Focus” has already been broadcast on SDPB, and may be viewed at http://watch.sdpb.org/program/south-dakota-focus/.