- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2019

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — For months, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in north central South Dakota has been looking to draw attention to the deterioration of its roads after heavy rains and a lack of federal funding.

This week at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, tribal Chairman Harold Frazier found at least one Democratic candidate interested in visiting the reservation: Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“Nobody cares,” Mr. Frazier said, during Ms. Klobuchar’s 45-minute appearance on the stage at the Sioux City Orpheum. “It’s shameful to see the neglect in your own backyard. I have no faith in the federal government. We’ve been lied to enough.”

Ms. Klobuchar responded by saying: “I care.”

And — according to Mr. Frazier — after the exchange at the forum, a Klobuchar staffer reached out to his team to set up a visit by the candidate to the far-flung reservation.

“They told us she’d be coming,” Mr. Frazier told The Washington Times. “This is good because you really have to see what we’re dealing with, get off the main roads and onto these BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] back roads to see how bad it is.”

A spokesperson for the Klobuchar campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Heavy rains and runoff from snowfall this spring have devastated tribal roadways on South Dakota’s Indian reservations, already potholed and susceptible to washouts due to lack of federal investment, tribal leaders say.

In June, the White House approved a disaster declaration from the Oglala Sioux Tribe after the reservation saw nearly $10 million in damage from severe winter and spring storms.

Complicating conditions is the federal funding formula for the BIA, which the tribe says prioritizes roads closer to commercial and economic centers and leaves stranded more remote reservations.

The Indian Reservation Roads Program was created in 1982 by the federal highway bill and is administered by the BIA. Its formula changed under the 2012 transportation law to add more roadways, aiding tribes in Oklahoma and Alaska whose main thoroughfares are local or state roadways.

But the change has resulted in even less money for tribes in the Dakotas. Mr. Frazier says his tribe has less than $3 million to fix roadways with costs estimated closer to $20 million for his reservation, the fourth largest in the nation (roughly the size of Connecticut).

Inadequate funding has cost lives, says tribal leaders. Two persons died in July on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation when a sinkhole swallowed their vehicle. Officials told the Bismarck Tribune that repairs on an old culvert were overdue.

Some roads bear large craters, complicating transit.

“You notice when you got to fix your transmission or realign your tires or your muffler falls out,” said Remi Bald Eagle, director of intergovernmental affairs with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “That’s one scientific way we know our roads are bad.”

The Department of Interior, which oversees the BIA, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration said some vital repairs already have been made.

“The Federal Highway Administration has been coordinating closely with BIA and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe,” the highway administration spokesperson said. “The agency has advised the Tribe they are able to move forward with performing needed emergency repairs on their roadways to re-establish vital transportation systems.”

Mr. Frazier said five culverts remain washed out, meaning five detours.

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