PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A long-time officer in the U.S. Air Force whose missions helped protect the nation made a second career helping preserve South Dakota culture. Now Ted Spencer of Pierre is ready to step down.
Spencer has served the past two years as state historic preservation officer and eight previous years as deputy. That came after 27 years in the Air Force, where he rose to the rank of colonel.
Spencer’s last day in the state post is June 8. He’ll spend some of that remaining time at an archeology camp with one of his children.
Looking back at the past decade, Spencer said he “really tried to ensure that we were never perceived by the general public as some faceless bureaucracy.”
So he and his staff (which he described as “wonderful”) emphasized outreach. There were education and training workshops throughout South Dakota, meeting with people who had technical issues or concerns on historic preservation, and prior to COVID-19 visiting the nine tribal reservation areas on a rotating monthly basis to meet with tribal historic preservation officers.
“(That) really helped when contentious cultural or historic issues would crop up, because when you have a more personal relationship with folks, you really have an incentive to help each other out,” Spencer said.
He also spoke highly of his time working with people in Deadwood.
“Deadwood is unique as the entire city is designated as a National Historic Landmark and it has such an outsized impact on the economy of our state through all the gaming and tourism revenue generated,” he said.
Asked about highlights, Spencer spoke about several.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we did an economic study that quantified the economic impacts of historic preservation activities to the state’s economy, in terms of factual data on number of people employed, direct economic dollars derived towards the state and local economies, as well as quantifiable tax revenue generated annually,” he said. “This helped to put a more practical perspective on how preserving our past translates to real dollars for our state’s economy, especially in regards to tourism.”
Spencer said he also was happy with South Dakota transforming to a more user-friendly and faster process of review and compliance. “Federal law requires that any projects using state or federal funds or requiring agency approval need to be reviewed by the SHPO for impacts to historic and cultural resources — think wind farms, pipelines, road construction, housing developments using HUD funds, et cetera.
“We review almost 2,000 projects annually, and through the use of programmatic agreements we initiated with a variety of federal agencies, along with a new on-line portal where everything can now be done digitally for project reviews, we really cut way down on the turnaround times for the applicants,” he said.
That mattered in real ways. “This was especially important when farmers and ranchers across the state were applying for drought relief funds from the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture over the last few years to dig wells, put in stock dams, and run water pipe to livestock during our severe droughts,” he said. “Getting these approvals through quickly really helped.”
Asked what’s next for him, Spencer said a variety of things.
“With my military past, I’m heavily involved as an officer with both the VFW and American Legion veterans organizations. I have a couple of rentals to maintain in town. I am building a vacation home in the Black Hills, and have three kids and all their activities to keep track of, so I’m sure I’ll stay plenty busy!”
As for any suggestions, as he prepares to move into the next stage of life, Spencer spoke highly of the people where he works.
“We have a great team of professionals in the office, and I know they bend over backwards to help our state’s constituents out with any questions or concerns, so I’m very happy and confident they will continue to do what’s best for preserving our state’s cultural and historic resources while balancing the economic needs of South Dakota citizens,” he said.