Amid fight over Flandreau structure, SDDOT gets the go-ahead to take down some local bridges

Capitol News Bureau
KELO South Dakota Department of Transportation SDDOT logo

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Seven more old bridges are now on South Dakota’s list for removal.

The decision Thursday by the state Transportation Commission affects structures in Beadle, Brule, Clay, Hand, Lincoln, McCook and Moody counties. The estimated total costs are about $770,000.

There were 11 applications, including four from Clay and two from Hand.

“All of them are deserving, but we have only so much money,” Tammy Williams said. She is a program manager for the state Department of Transportation.

The choices came after a vigorous back and forth by phone between Flandreau Mayor Dan Sutton and Emily Pieper over the Crescent Street bridge that is closed to traffic but some people still use.

Removing it will cost an estimated $301,320.

Pieper, who lost to Sutton in the mayor’s election, asked the panel to give her at least a year to find money to repair it. Asked how much that would cost, she said, “I don’t know.”

She said she had worked three years trying to get a grant from an outside organization but was eventually turned down because of what she described as “institutional racism.”

The bridge over the Big Sioux River connects the community and Flandreau Indian School. Vehicles now use the nearby SD 13 bridge.

Pieper served as chaplain at Flandreau Indian School for several years a decade ago. She said Thursday about 1,500 people signed her online petition, including about 200 from Flandreau.

Mayor Sutton said she had recently said publicly there were 166 signatures from Flandreau, which he said represented less than 10% of the city’s population. “We have vetted this thing for many years,” Sutton said, referring to it as “this safety-hazard bridge.” 

City administrator Jeff Pederson said an engineering firm looked at the bridge and estimated the costs at $2.4 million to repair it and some $3 million to replace it.

“The decking is in terrible shape and there literally are holes in the decking,” Pederson said.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist cautioned the commission about stepping into the middle of a local dispute.

Commissioner Ron Rosenboom of Sturgis noted that the money proposed for Flandreau could be reverted if the project doesn’t go forward. Commissioner Benj Stoick of Mobridge agreed, “This is a local issue.”

Commissioner Kathy Zander of Pierre took a similar position “I think the council is representing the people,” Zander said. “I think that should take precedent over 160 people that signed a petition.”

Chairman Mike Vehle of Mitchell likewise agreed with Rosenboom. “So they still have a chance if they want to do it,” Vehle said. The vote was 9-0 in favor of the seven removals.

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