- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

Editors: Please note that The Associated Press welcomes editorial contributions from members for the weekly Editorial Roundup. Three editorials are selected every week. Contributions can be made by email at [email protected]

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Sept. 10, 2014

Pheasant Habitat Work Group did its job

When Gov. Dennis Daugaard selected the Pheasant Habitat Work Group in January, we were admittedly skeptical about how the group was full of bureaucrats and government insiders.

At the time, we felt the board needed more representatives from the pheasant belt, people on the ground and in the prime of the sport.

But when the governor and the Pheasant Habitat Work Group released its 26-page report earlier this month in Sioux Falls, we were pleased with its findings. We also feel the group did a sufficient job with its eight recommendations - especially with funding - that are now in the governor’s hands to put in motion.

The group met eight times from February to August and reviewed hundreds of comments, suggestions, letters, survey results and scientific data to develop its recommendations. That shows exactly how committed those 13 folks on the committee were to finding ways to improve the state’s habitat.

All of their recommendations seem like plausible approaches to fixing the problem of declining acres of wildlife habitat in South Dakota.

In short, the recommendations range from finding ways for greater collaboration among conservation partners, establishing funding mechanisms for habitat, educating people on habitat, revisiting statewide mowing practices, encouraging the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to include all of South Dakota as eligible for crop insurance coverage for winter wheat, and supporting efforts to raise the federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25.

Perhaps the most important recommendation was establishing a long-term conservation fund and attempt to appropriate $1 million in one-time funds to bolster private fundraising efforts.

While we recognize the state government is throwing money at a problem for part of its solution, this particular issue needs funding more than most. Funding for habitat loss is likely the biggest problem inside the overall issue.

Tourism dollars that come from pheasant hunting in South Dakota are so important for the state’s small towns, and if pheasants numbers decline, so does that funding for small mom-and-pop shops. That was evident last season when bird numbers were down, and some of our regional communities told us business, too, was down.

Aside from the tourism economy, agriculture producers have the biggest industry in our state and should get paid for their land, one way or another. In recent years, because of grain prices, that’s meant turning over virgin land and planting and growing crops.

But those producers, to help keep habitat at a premium, should be paid good money to keep their land rich for pheasants and other wildlife.

They deserve that, and should be enticed to keep at least some of their land in habitat. That way, small communities continue to thrive when bird numbers are strong, and agriculture producers are seeing benefits.

Finding a way to fund the issue of habitat loss is a win for conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, agriculture producers and the state economy. And that was the point of the Pheasant Habitat Work Group.

Now that the group did its job, it’s up to Gov. Daugaard and the legislature to act on these recommendations.

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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Sept. 16, 2014

Yankton’s housing issue in focus

The compelling importance of Yankton’s housing shortage was driven home very plainly during a recent “State of the Community” forum sponsored by the Yankton Chamber of Commerce.

This issue is nothing new: A recent study (and a lot of anecdotal evidence) indicates that Yankton is suffering from a lack of housing, in both rental units as well as homes under approximately $150,000. These are properties that would service a broad swath of the population, including (and especially) young families and workers coming in for new jobs.

During his presentation Tuesday at Minerva’s, John Kramer of Yankton Area Progressive Growth labeled this as the most pressing need the city has. He pointed to it against the backdrop of projects looking at Yankton’s potential for job growth in coming years, with hundreds of new jobs possible in fields of manufacturing and health care.

But where will these people live? How can Yankton’s job base - the growth of which is essential to the community’s economic future - expand if there is no housing available to accommodate such expansion?

Yankton School District superintendent Dr. Wayne Kindle backed up Kramer’s argument. Kindle noted that, this past summer, the school district lost out on as many as 25 students (and the more than $4,700 per student of state aid that goes with those bodies) because the parents/guardians of these kids could not find places to live in Yankton. As a result, these people chose to live in area towns. They commute to work in Yankton, but their kids go to school in other communities - because there is no place here to call home.

Kindle’s observation is intriguing, especially in terms of the school district’s own finances. Kindle told the audience that the Yankton district will not need an opt-out for three years as long as state funding doesn’t change and student numbers don’t decline. Those items are tricky variables, but they play a significant role in school finances.

So, if more housing became available to support more families and grow the student population, the school district’s financial outlook would brighten.

The bottom line is, Yankton’s housing problem - it would not be an overstatement to call it a crisis - impacts everyone in this community. It makes it harder to attract new jobs, which makes it more difficult to grow city revenue that pays for things like infrastructure improvements. It also makes it harder to fill job openings. It makes it more difficult to grow the school district’s enrollment, which puts a strain on the schools and the educational system; it even forces the district to occasionally turn to the public for more funding.

More housing certainly isn’t a silver bullet for any economic base, but it sure is a major component to any community with a vibrant economy.

This is one of Yankton’s biggest and most pressing problems right now, and we must all work together to cultivate the solutions.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Sept. 13, 2014

Agencies must plan growth together

The recent conversation about a lack of sidewalks near McGovern Middle School is a symptom of a larger problem in Sioux Falls.

As our community expands and changes, we talk about building healthier, self-sustaining neighborhoods, but we have not yet found the right way to do that.

It is important for school, city and county officials to work together to encourage the development of neighborhoods where stores, services, parks and schools are within walking and biking distance. It’s a healthier and more inclusive lifestyle and one favored by many young families today.

City planners promote these concepts, and they have been incorporated into designs for several new developments. They also are showcased in our downtown neighborhoods.

But this is not reality in many of the newer housing areas sprouting up all around the city. And it doesn’t seem to be a priority with developers. The McGovern Middle School area is an example.

Building a new school presents challenges to planners, beginning with the need to identify a sizable parcel of land in a rural area that is expected to grow with young families someday.

In the past, the plan has been to build the school where estimates indicate the population will be and wait for housing and business growth around the site to catch up.

The result: You get a school in a rural area, along a busy street, with no sidewalks and 700-plus middle school-age kids needing to be herded onto buses each day.

There has to be a better way to do this - to build sidewalks, bike trails and some of the necessary infrastructure that a viable neighborhood will need before the homeowners actually show up. But it will take increased cooperation and more purposeful dialogue among city, county and school officials.

For starters, the school district should offer input and know what’s being proposed in the city’s 5-year capital improvement plans. The city should be well versed on the school district’s expansion as well as any consolidation plans that will affect existing neighborhoods. And the county should be represented in all those discussions.

Certainly, some cooperation among the units of government exists today. The city tries to help schools determine new locations. The school district bought land for McGovern Middle School in 2006, and the site for the new school has been noted by city planners in their work for several years.

And city officials did put some money into the new school site - $1.19 million in upgrades to ready it for development. They installed new street lights, sanitary sewers and storm drainage facilities.

But why stop short of sidewalks? And why not work to make it accessible by bicycle? Those things could have been added as well.

Each unit of government has procedures ingrained its culture. They exist to guarantee orderly growth, including ensuring public safety, accessibility and standards for construction. But to really change the way we view new neighborhoods, our government planning processes should evolve as well. A more broad-based, cooperative strategic planning mentality is needed.

Residents concerned about the McGovern Middle School area can be influential voices in getting that cooperation started.

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