LINCOLN COUNTY, S.D. (KELO) — Court records help explain exactly how the state of South Dakota already owned the land on which it intends to build a new men’s prison in Lincoln County between Harrisburg and Canton. The land today is owned by the state through its Office of School and Public Lands.

“It’s not a done deal, but I think by and large if all indications are that the land is appropriate for their purposes, and that the building can be constructed out there, I think that they’ll give us the go-ahead,” said Brock Greenfield, commissioner of School and Public Lands.

A lady named Ethilda Haug used to own the land; she died in 1990. Her husband Alfred had already passed away, and the couple did not have any children. They did, however, have Earl Helgeson. Tom Eiesland of Lincoln County says Helgeson “was kind of like a son” for Alfred and Ethilda. Helgeson had power of attorney for Ethilda; he died several years ago.

“Earl was not only my good friend, but my mentor and gave me the opportunity to start farming here, just as Alfred gave him the opportunity to start,” Eiesland said.

Eiesland today with his son farms the land on which the state wants to build the men’s prison; he also lives nearby. Because Ethilda passed away without a will and no heir came forward, her land became property of the state in accordance with South Dakota law.

“Their thinking was, well, the money will go to the school and the public and that would be just fine because they were both great supporters of South Dakota and they both believed in giving back,” Eiesland said.

School and Public Lands has received some of the profits from farming done on the land. Eiesland sees the transfer to the state as a gift.

“The intent that I got from them, it was a gift,” Eiesland said. “Because it could have been, it didn’t have to be relinquished. And I want to add this, that the School and Public Lands has treated it that way ever since, from the very start … they’ve always been grateful for the gift.”

Eiesland does oppose the state’s plan to build a new prison at the proposed site in Lincoln County, but he says it’s not because of any personal interests; rather, it’s because of how he feels it would impact the broader community. Eiesland has lived there for more than 50 years.

“The important thing here was the community,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said in an email to KELOLAND News that the estimated end date for construction on the new prison is 2028. The statement also says that the prison’s location “can have utilities developed at a reasonable cost for infrastructure and roads to be built at the state’s expense.”