PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A trial is at last under way in a 2003 lawsuit over an ice jam that flooded the Moreau River in north-central South Dakota in spring 1997 and allegedly caused hundreds of millions of dollars in economic damages to ranchers and others in the area.
Senior Judge Loren A. Smith from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is presiding over the case, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe et al v. United States of America. Among the witnesses he heard Wednesday on the third day of testimony were a rancher who raises quarter-horses, another rancher who lives on the Cheyenne River and prepared a report on the damages, and a federal government scientist.
The scientist, Kathleen White, currently is program director of climate change for the U.S. Department of Defense. She visited the affected area in June 2007 while working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an ice-jam expert and wrote a report stating the flood wasn’t unprecedented and wasn’t caused by construction of the Oahe Dam on the Missouri River a half-century earlier.
White wasn’t able to complete her testimony Wednesday and will resume her appearance at a later time. Two weeks have been set aside for the trial that began Monday.
Tom Smith, who ranches along the Moreau River near the community of Promise, told the court that the 1997 flood left him with “no way out” and covered BIA Road 4 in four or five feet of water. He said it took a month for the water to subside and more time for the debris to be removed. “I experienced a lot of anxiety,” he said.
Todd Mortenson, whose ranch is on the Cheyenne River near Foster Bay, spoke to ranchers along the Moreau, reviewed their sworn statements and compiled a report on the effects from the 1997 flood. He concluded that the Corps’ construction of Oahe Dam across the Missouri River near Pierre increased the risk of flooding on the Moreau and Cheyenne rivers, which flow into the Missouri. He disagreed that ranchers could simply decide to move somewhere else and start raising livestock again.
“You’ve got roots there,” Mortenson said. “It’s not a place you just give up and leave.”
Marty Jackley and Stacy Hegge, from the Pierre office of Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, are now representing the tribal government, ranchers and others in the case. Jackley is the Republican candidate for state attorney general and is unopposed in the November general election.