Eye on KELOLAND: From farms to bridges, keeping an eye on local rivers


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Farmers and road construction crews are holding out hope that this spring will be much dryer than last year when several fields flooded and roads were washed away.

The James River at Huron is currently at major flood stage. Meanwhile, people living near the Vermillion River in Turner County are also paying close attention to water levels.

It’s been a nightmare of a year for Brad Rops and his family in Turner County.

“I don’t know, it builds character. I don’t know if I’m stubborn or stupid or what,” Rops said.

His farm, which sits just north of Davis in Turner County, has been flooded by the Vermillion River more times than Rops himself cares to remember.

This video is from September when the river carried away a dike he built made up of 15 heavy concrete barriers and 105 tons of dirt.

“Middle of the night it just burst loose and these 2,500-pound dividers, they were scattered all over and water just came rushing through,” Rops said.

As you can see from our drone video, it’s taken several months, hard work and help from friends to get it all put back together.

While the water is flowing pretty good this March, Rops is happy with what he’s seeing from Mother Nature in 2020.

“I couldn’t have probably ordered a better spring than what we’ve had so far and winter as far as that goes,” Rops said.

Still, he’s anxious about what could happen if the area sees any substantial moisture.

“I know the river is here. I try not to worry about it and worry what can be. We just try to take precautions and measures and we react to what happens,” Rops said.

“We like it here and we’re going to stick it out,” Rops said.

Flooding not only impacted farms but also the roads around the fields. High water levels on the James River have disrupted construction crews.

Especially this one working on the Highway 37 bridge eleven miles north of Huron.

“We’ve never had a project go a year, over a year past where it should be,” Brown said.

This $5.3 million project to build a 300-foot bridge over the James started last June. Jordan Brown is the Huron area Project Engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. He says the 200-calendar-day project is turning into what could be a two-year ordeal.

“It’s been in flood stage almost the entire time,” Brown said.

Work should have wrapped up this past November but water levels and pressures are making it a dangerous job.

“Right now we’re trying to build our riprap, our roadway, out into the river higher right now. It’s currently under water,” Brown said.

Adding to the project’s costs, crews have had to repave a six-mile detour for cars to the tune of $1 million. A $325,000 redesign of the bridge also took place to make it six feet higher.

“The last week it’s come up probably four or five feet and just last night it came up a couple more feet I think,” Brown said.

As you can see, one sub-structure is done with two more to go.

“Lot of current through there so we got to make sure there’s nobody that can get in that current or anything and then with the pressures we got to make sure that that casing is structurally sound so nothing happens in there,” Brown said.

The workers are keeping a close eye on all the ice as well. If things go well, the bridge could be ready this fall.

“If the water behaves, hopefully October but there’s no guarantees. It’s a lot of unpredictable,” Brown said.

Which means Brown, like our Turner County farmer, will be paying attention to the weather.

For Rops, he loves where he lives and is willing to do what it takes to keep it running.

“It’s quiet. We’ve got wildlife. The river is enjoyable most of the time. Even when it’s raging. It’s pretty awesome to see,” Rops said.

A marvel at rest and during a rush.

Rops: I have faith in the long run things are going to turn out all right and God provides.

Holsen: And this is home?

Rops: This is home.

Holsen: And you’re going to protect it.

Rops: We’ll do what we can.

That’s all we can do.

While the Highway 37 bridge is under construction, truck drivers have to take a 20-minute detour to get around it.

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